Afghan police rounded up scores of suspects in a series of raids across Kabul yesterday. But this time the prisoners were not Taliban insurgents or Al-Qa'ida suspects. They were Chinese women - the notorious Chinese prostitutes of Kabul.
In the four years since the fall of the Taliban, an extraordinary number of "Chinese restaurants" have opened in Kabul. Although they have bright neon signs and menus, and they do sell food, most are simply fronts for prostitution.
In fact, so synonymous have Chinese restaurants become with brothels in Kabul that it is not a good idea to tell anybody you are going for a Chinese meal - in case they get the wrong impression.
Nobody is really sure how the Chinese came to dominate the market. But in Kabul, traditional Chinese lanterns outside a restaurant can mean more is on offer than just good food.
By day you can spot the prostitutes hanging around the restaurants, often wearing skimpy clothes that would be unimaginable for any Afghan woman.
For years the police have turned a blind eye to the brothels, but now they are cracking down. The Interior Ministry said 46 foreign women had been arrested for prostitution and for selling alcohol to Afghans. Privately, the ministry said they were all Chinese.
The crackdown comes after newly elected members of parliament said they would go after the government over Kabul's widespread prostitution.
The brothels are seen as a corrupting effect of the West. Most are located in the expensive neighbourhoods like Wazir Akbar Khan and Shar-e Now, amid the expensive restaurants and bars frequented by the plethora of foreign diplomats, UN staff and NGO workers who live in Kabul.
These are liberal areas and no brothel would last long in the traditional Afghan neighbourhoods that make up most of the city: they would be chased out by local sentiment.
Undeniably the brothels attract foreign clientele. They also attract a steady stream of Afghan men.
Adding to the controversy are Afghanistan's laws on the consumption of alcohol, still illegal for all Afghan Muslims. But it is allowed to sell alcohol to foreigners, who can freely drink it. The illegal status of the Chinese restaurants has meant, however, that many have also sold alcohol to Afghan men, which has added to their notoriety.
There is a growing backlash to the Western presence in Kabul from Afghans embittered at a lack of economic progress since the fall of the Taliban. Intolerance of Westerners' drinking and foreign women not covering their heads in public is growing.
The Interior Ministry said the women arrested yesterday would be deported. Under the Taliban they would have faced a public lashing or being stoned to death.Reuse content