Pakistani actress Veena Malik was trending worldwide on Twitter yesterday after an Indian glamour magazine cover revealed her wearing nothing but a tattoo that reads "ISI", the initials of Pakistan's premier military spy agency.
The audacious decision to pose nude drew sharp intakes of breath on the internet as liberal Pakistanis celebrated the move as a bold act of de- fiance and braced themselves for a sharp reaction from the country's religious hardliners.
There was some dispute last night as to whether the cover shot was real after Ms Malik's publicist denied that she had participated. But Kabeer Sharma, the editor of FHM India, said he has the emails and a video to prove it.
"We shot with her on the 22nd of November in Bombay," Sharma said. "She's seen the pictures, said that she's fine with them, and said that she is looking forward to the cover."
If the photograph is real, it is likely to be denounced by extremists and frowned upon for objectifying women. But for some Pakistanis it was a rare taste of an open society.
"Make copies of the picture and bury it in your backyard," wrote blogger and columnist Umair Javed. "This way, our grandkids will know there were some amongst us who lived free!"
Malik won the admiration of Pakistan's liberals earlier this year when she confronted a religious hardliner on national television. The "mufti" had accused her of lewd anti-Islamic behaviour after she appeared on an Indian reality television show.
"Those people who carry out terrorist attacks and are found to have Pakistani passports don't represent Pakistan," Malik boomed in the highest-rated current affairs tele- vision show yet. "Pakistanis include people like me, who come from the entertainment industry."
The mufti was seen spluttering into silence as Malik, a well-known model, actress and comedienne, pressed ahead with her assault. "There are many reasons why Pakistan is disgraced in the world. Veena Malik is not one of those reasons."
Much of the liberal support for Malik came after a feeling of having been silenced by extremists since the brutal killing of Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Punjab province, who was gunned down by his bodyguard for his opposition to the country's prejudicial blasphemy laws.