The Afghanistan government has imposed a unilateral ban on WhatsApp and Telegram and asked several private telecommunication companies to suspend the instant messaging services in the country, citing 'security concerns'.

Otherwise, WhatsApp is currently banned only in China and it faced ban in Saudi Arabia until September this year. Monitoring WhatsApp remains tricky for the intelligence agencies as the platform uses end-to-end encryption, meaning the company cannot read customers' messages even if approached by law enforcement agencies.

The "Arab Spring" mass protests in 2011 using the Internet is often cited by the authorities elsewhere to impose the ban on social media platforms. However, in Afghanistan the apps are confined to the country's elite and ban has essentially affected the customers of Salaam Telecom, a government-owned service provider.

The Afghan Constitution allows freedom of expression per se but security has remained the main concern. The deputy director of the telecom regulatory authority told the BBC that the ban was due to "security concerns" as both WhatsApp and Telegram are often used by the Taliban to evade government surveillance.

An official from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology said that the ban is meant for 20 days and the request had come from the National Directorate of Security, the country's intelligence agency. An IANS report said the apps were being temporarily banned "to introduce a new kind of technology," because users had complained about the quality of WhatsApp's service.

"WhatsApp and Telegram are just applications for contact and the sending of audio messages, and this does not affect freedom of speech," the ministry said denying allegations of violation of freedom of speech in Afghanistan.

(With inputs from IANS)