Afghan Intelligence Busts Chinese Spy Cell in Kabul: Report

Afghan analysts said the case shows “weakness” of security institutions and that it needs to be investigated.

Afghanistan’s intelligence agency—the National Directorate of Security (NDS)—has busted a 10-member Chinese module operating a terror cell in the city of Kabul, the Hindustan Times has reported quoting some diplomats and security officials.

According to the Hindustan Times, the crackdown has come as a huge embarrassment for Beijing, which has been trying to persuade the Afghan government to keep the case secret.

The Afghan security and intelligence agencies so far have not made an official comment about the report.

“The 10 Chinese citizens, detained recently in this connection by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) on charges of espionage and running a terror cell, are believed to be linked to China’s spy agency, the Ministry of State Security. The crackdown by the NDS started on 10 December,” the Hindustan Times reported.

The report also said that at least two of the 10 Chinese nationals were in contact with the Haqqani Network, the terrorist group that doubles as the sword arm of the Taliban.

President Ashraf Ghani has been briefed about the detentions and has authorized First Vice President Amrullah Saleh to oversee the investigation and engage the Chinese in view of the sensitivities involved, the people cited in the first instance added, according to Hindustan Times report.

The report said that Amrullah Saleh has held a meeting with the Chinese envoy to Kabul, Wang Yu to brief him about the detention. Saleh is learnt to have indicated that the Afghan government could consider a pardon for the Chinese spies if Beijing submits a formal apology that admits to the violation of international norms and a betrayal of Kabul’s trust.

Afghan analysts said they see “weakness” in government institutions that lead to such incidents.

“Our state institutions have become that much weak that spies and terrorists have made their way in our homes and they continue their operation with full calm. All efforts by our government have proved useless while the enemies are getting stronger,” said Atiqullah Amarkhil, a political analyst in Kabul.

“Based on the international norms and international conventions, the Chinese citizens have committed a major crime,” former Afghan diplomat Ahmad Saeedi said. “In the first step, the Chinese government needs to offer an apology to the Afghan government, also these suspects who have interfered shamefully in Afghanistan’s affairs must be punished.”

An Afghan MP, Mahdi Rasikh, said the Afghan government should ask China for explanation in this respect.

“For what purpose these individuals came to Afghanistan and collaborated with the terrorists in Afghanistan? This also indicates our intelligence failures,” Rashikh said.

Based on the Hindustan Times report, one of those detained, Li Yangyang, according to a counter-terror official in Kabul, has been operating for the Chinese Intelligence since July-August.

He was arrested by the Afghan NDS on 10 December from his house in the western Kabul neighborhood of Kart-e-Char.

The NDS team seized arms, ammunition and Ketamine powder, a recreational drug, from his residence when the first round of raids were carried out on 10 December, the report said.

NDS officials who have questioned Li have reported that he had been gathering information about al Qaeda, Taliban and Uyghurs in Kunar and Badakhshan provinces, according to this counter-terror official, the report says.

The report says that investigators, a diplomat in New Delhi said, were still trying to ascertain the precise activities of the espionage ring and any possible linkage to Pakistan’s deep state.