A hip-shaking performance by the pop star Shakira has provoked a showdown between the Afghan government and the country’s independent media.
The culture ministry has been joined by senior Muslim clerics in warning the country’s largest private television station of serious consequences following the broadcast of a concert by the Colombian singer, famous among her young fans for her onstage gyrations.
The performance by Shakira, whose hits include Hips Don’t Lie, left Tolo TV facing possible legal action by the authorities, who are poised to take dramatic steps against the more liberal-minded newspapers and broadcast media.
The incident is the latest sign of a growing fight back by the country’s powerful conservative establishment against the tide of Western-backed liberal reforms since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.
Draconian new media legislation is soon to be signed into law by President Hamid Karzai after it was recently approved by the Kabul parliament.
The measures will give the government greater powers to limit broadcasts that are deemed damaging to Afghanistan and its culture, primarily by forcing television stations to carry more religious programmes or face going off air.
The Shakira broadcast caused consternation even though she appeared with computer pixellation covering her chest.
State television broadcast interviews with clerics and MPs criticising the concert while one pro-government newspaper attacked the "notorious" broadcast of a "naked US pop singer and dancer" claiming it provided inspiration to suicide bombers.
"We believe Shakira’s song will be shown with Tolo TV’s exclusive logo at the training camps for suicide attackers to urge our immature young people to leave a number of our mothers bereaved," said the Weesa newspaper.
But the owner of Tolo TV, Saad Mohseni, who grew up in Australia, said: "This was not that provocative and Shakira was pixellated. The government are looking for an excuse to have a go at us.
"When we give airtime to the Taliban we are 'talking to terrorists', when we air people criticising the government we are told we are 'opposing peace and reconciliation'."
Afghanistan’s media has enjoyed a startling renaissance since 2001.
Television was banned under the Taliban, but today eight independent television stations are broadcasting as well as more than 60 FM radio stations, while hundreds of newspapers and magazines are in circulation.
However, instances of press intimidation and harassment have risen sharply in the past year. Two female journalists are among several to have been murdered.
The annual survey of media freedom worldwide by the organisation Reporters Without Borders ranked Afghanistan as 142nd out of 196 countries, and commented: "The Afghan media is in its worst state in six years."
Mr Karzai’s government has become increasingly alarmed by both press criticism and the danger that the liberalism apparent within the media could fuel the Taliban insurgency.
Afghanistan’s constitution guarantees the provisions of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which include freedom of speech and expression.
But it also includes a prominent article which states that "no law can be contrary to the provisions and practices of Islam".
This has proved a battleground between liberals and conservatives particularly in relation to restrictions within Islam’s Sharia laws, most notably those on blasphemy.
Tolo TV has been frequently criticised for broadcasting Western-style programmes including versions of MTV, Oprah and Pop Idol.
MPs were furious when the station recently broadcast footage of them nodding off and picking their noses during parliamentary debates.
Meanwhile, opinion on the streets of Kabul is divided over the Shakira broadcast. "Her clothes were very tight," said Sharif, a 41-year-old doorman who watched the concert. "Religious people say it is the West trying to impose their values but I had no problem with it."