Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security which had busted a Chinese spy ring last month but kept the case a closely-guarded secret has, for the first time, confirmed that the security agency did detain Chinese nationals for espionage.
The NDS had detained 10 Chinese nationals for espionage. At least 2 of the 10 spies were learned to have been in touch with the Haqqani Network, the terrorist group backed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence that is blamed for many bloody attacks and doubles as the sword arm of the Taliban.
The official confirmation about the Chinese spy ring came on Tuesday after members of Wolesi Jirga, the Afghan House of Representatives, demanded answers on the report from the National Directorate of Security boss Ahmad Zia Saraj.
Ahmad Zia Saraj confirmed that a group of Chinese nationals had been arrested on charges of espionage in Kabul, according to Afghanistan private news channel Ariana News. But he declined to give any more details.
The NDS had initially declined comment on the detentions to the media in Afghanistan.
“Yes, a group of Chinese has been arrested but due to it being a sensitive issue, I cannot share details,” the NDS chief told the lawmakers, according to the news channel.
Diplomats and security officials in Afghanistan believe that the 10 were linked to the Chinese intelligence agency, Ministry of State Security.
The statement made by China:
The official confirmation, however, comes after Afghanistan came under pressure from President Xi Jinping’s government in Beijing and allowed the 10 Chinese nationals to leave the country.
The 10 were flown out of Afghanistan on Saturday in a special aircraft arranged by the Chinese authorities.
President Ashraf Ghani was briefed about the detentions right in the beginning in view of the sensitivities involved.
First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, a former NDS chief who is credited with rebuilding the intelligence agency, was tasked to oversee the investigation and engage the Chinese.
The terms of the arrangement between the two countries are not known.
A diplomat in Kabul said President Ashraf Ghani may have been keen to wrap up the case as soon as possible before it lands in a position where Beijing’s adversaries such as the US use the case to fire at China from his shoulders.
The objective of this Spy ring:
There was a view within the Afghan government that the 10-member Chinese module may have been attempting to create a fake East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) module in Afghanistan to entrap ETIM operatives in Afghanistan.
Chinese officials, however, suggest that Beijing was concerned that Afghanistan, which shares borders with the volatile Xinjiang province, could become a breeding ground for Uyghur Muslim militants.