KABUL  - Afghanistan has instructed female TV presenters to stop appearing on screen without a headscarf and to wear less make-up, officials said, raising fears about creeping restrictions on the media.

“All the TV networks are in seriousness asked to stop the female presenters from appearing on TV without a veil and with dense make-up,” the information and culture ministry said.

“All the female newscasters on Afghan TV channels are also asked to respect Islamic and Afghan values,” it added.

A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai told AFP Tuesday that the ministry took the decision after coming under pressure from the Ulema council, the country’s highest religious body of Islamic scholars.

Afghan media, essentially non-existent under the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, have enjoyed considerable freedom, with more than two dozen TV stations springing up in the decade since the 2001 US-led invasion.

As tentative steps are made towards peace talks between the United States and Taliban insurgents, Afghan women are worried about a possible return of the hardline Islamists to the capital Kabul.

Under the Taliban regime, women were subjected to brutal repression. Girls’ schools were closed down, and women were not allowed to work.

They were whipped in the street by religious police if they wore anything other than the all-enveloping blue or white burqa.