An Afghan minority group apparently emerged as a stronger force in the country's legislature, a politically sensitive result in polls badly blemished by fraud and security problems.
The Hazaras, a minority Shiite community, gained 59 of 249 parliamentary seats in the recently-certified elections, a U.S. diplomat told CNN. That's a much larger percentage than their numbers - which the CIA World Factbook says is 9 percent of a 29 million-plus population.
The result raises concern among Western and Afghan officials that security problems could worsen over imbalances in the U.S.-backed government's tribal and ethnic presence. And the stakes are high for the Obama administration, which is seeking stability in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, regarded as the central front in the war on terror.
Pashtuns represent the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan at 42 percent, but many failed to show up at the elections because of pressure and intimidation to not take part in the political process or many failed to go to the polls because of warfare in their communities. A significant number of Pashtuns are pro-Taliban and dislike the Hamid Karzai government.
Hazaras are manual workers who have been stigmatized by their Oriental looks and Shiite Muslim faith. About 80 percent of the country is Sunni Muslim and 19 percent is Shiite, according to the CIA World Factbook.
The Afghan Independent Election Commission on Wednesday certified the results in the September 18 elections for the lower house, also called the Wolesi Jirga.
But the certification was held up for about a week by results in Ghazni province. All 11 seats there were won by Hazara candidates, even though the Pashtuns represent the majority there, the U.S. diplomat said.
Results initially were held back because of what Afghan officials call "technical problems" and a deteriorating security situation that kept voters from casting ballots. But Western officials told CNN the real reason was the politically sensitive results that eventually were included in the final tally.
There have been many complaints over allegations of fraud in the elections, with many votes from the more than 3,000 polling stations thrown out. Afghanistan's attorney general announced last week that his office is probing the allegations.
Nevertheless, the final results were hailed on Wednesday by the United Nations and the United States, which said millions went to the polls despite "security risks."
"There were irregularities and fraud in this election, but the Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission have worked well within the framework of the electoral law and Afghan Constitution," the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said.
"We look forward to the opening of the new parliament so that it can begin taking up its important Constitutional role on behalf of the Afghan people."
Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special representative in Afghanistan commended election officials for completing the work "in extremely challenging circumstances."
"We look forward to the prompt inauguration of the Wolesi Jirga, as an important further step in Afghanistan's strengthening of its democratic governance," he said. "While we have noted that there were significant instances of irregularity and fraud, the IEC and ECC demonstrated their commitment to address these problems in accordance with the electoral law and the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.