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White House receives ‘intel’ on Chinese bounties against US forces

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The Trump administration is reportedly declassifying as-yet uncorroborated intelligence, that claims China offered to pay non-state actors in Afghanistan to attack US forces, two senior administration officials tell Axios.

The Chinese embassy in Washington DC did not respond to a request for comment by Axios and according to the report outgoing President Donald Trump is not believed to have discussed the matter with China’s President Xi Jinping.

It was not immediately clear whether any members of Congress or President-elect Joe Biden have been briefed, though Biden now has access to the President’s Daily Brief.

The intelligence was included in the president’s briefing on December 17, and Trump was verbally briefed on the matter by National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, officials told Axios.

According to the Axios article, administration officials across multiple agencies are currently working to corroborate the initial intelligence reports.

Axios was not able to visually inspect any reports detailing the intelligence but they reported stated a summary was described by the officials over the phone.

Axios meanwhile stated that if this intelligence were to be confirmed, it would represent a dramatic strategic shift for China, and sharply escalate tensions between China and the US and on the other hand, if the intelligence does not prove accurate, it raises questions about the motivations of the sources behind it as well as the decision to declassify it.

China has long played a quiet diplomatic role in Afghanistan, inviting Afghan Taliban officials to Beijing to discuss plans for a peace deal and encouraging an Afghan-led solution, though Chinese-made weapons and financing have at times also flowed into the conflict there.

But one senior official told Axios “like all first reports, we react with caution to initial reports” but “any intel reports relating to the safety of our forces we take very seriously.”

Another source said: “The US has evidence that the PRC [People’s Republic of China] attempted to finance attacks on American servicemen by Afghan non-state actors by offering financial incentives or ‘bounties’,” and said the National Security Council “is coordinating a whole-of-government investigation.”

He would not say whether he was referring to the Taliban, or give details about who “non-state actors” were, Axios reported.

The timing of the alleged bounty offer is unclear. The source would say only that this happened some time after late February when the US struck its deal with the Taliban.

This latest development comes just days after Afghan security officials announced they had discovered an alleged Chinese spy ring operating in the country apparently seeking to target Uyghurs.

Last week, officials confirmed that Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) detained 10 Chinese nationals on charges of espionage after busting the alleged spy ring.

The Hindustan Times reported that Beijing had tried to persuade the Afghan government to keep the case under wraps as it is a huge embarrassment for the communist country, people familiar with the matter told the Indian daily.

A senior diplomat in Kabul told the Hindustan Times that two of the 10 Chinese nationals were in touch with Haqqani Network and that Li Yangyang, one of the detainees, had been operating since July or August.

The Times reported the alleged spy was arrested by the NDS on December 10.

Another detainee, Sha Hung, reportedly ran a restaurant in Kabul’s Sherpur area, in the city center.

The Times stated that while both Chinese nationals were in touch with Haqqani Network, Li was gathering information about al-Qaeda, Taliban, and Uyghurs in Kunar and Badakhshan provinces.

Chinese ambassador to Afghanistan Wang Yu has reportedly been briefed about the situation by Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who in turn allegedly threatened Beijing with criminal proceedings unless it apologizes formally and admits to the violation of international protocol.

Afghanistan shares its border with China’s Xinjiang, home to Uighur Muslims who seek refuge in the country.

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Pakistan contradicts UNHCR chief’s remarks on Afghan migrants’ return plan

Grandi meanwhile said in a statement early this week that the Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan had been suspended and sought assurances from Pakistan that it would remain on hold.

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Pakistan has contradicted a claim by UN refugees agency UNHCR that the program to repatriate illegal migrants, specifically Afghans, has been suspended, saying “this is not true”.

This week, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said during a visit to Pakistan, that the UNHCR appreciated Islamabad’s move to suspend the repatriation of Afghan refugees.

But, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch has since said: “this is not true. It may be noted that no such understanding has been given by Pakistan to the UNHCR, including in recent meetings with the High Commissioner for Refugees.”

“IFRP (repatriation program) remains in place and is being implemented in an orderly and phased manner”, she said.

Grandi meanwhile said in a statement early this week that the Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan had been suspended and sought assurances from Pakistan that it would remain on hold.

Pakistan has been hosting millions of Afghan refugees since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The latest influx started in August 2021 when the former government collapsed.

Between 600,000 and 800,000 Afghans sought refuge in Pakistan. But last November, Pakistan launched a widely criticized repatriation programme aimed at returning millions of Afghans, regardless of their legal status, to Afghanistan.

 

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Cherry yields have increased in Takhar province

Meanwhile, officials from Takhar’s Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock said that the prices have decreased due to the increase in yield.

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Farmers in Takhar say the harvest of cherries has increased in this province, but they are worried about the drop in prices and the lack of a market for sales.

Cherry farmers in Takhar said that the price earned from cultivating fruits has dropped, compared to previous years, and asked the government to help with the marketing of crops.

“Fruits are plentiful this year. It is Iranian cherries, it is domestic cherries. Unfortunately, compared to previous years, the price of cherries is very low,” said one Takhar cherry farmer.

“The price this year is very different from last year; last year the prices were very high, this year it is low,” said another farmer.

Fresh fruit sellers also said that Takhar’s fruit was exported to neighboring and central provinces in the past years, but this year they do not have customers outside their own province – which is a cause for concern among them.

Meanwhile, officials from Takhar’s Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock said that the prices have decreased due to the increase in yield.

“In the previous years, due to the drought, the prices of fruits and vegetables increased,” said Abdulalla Radmard, director for promotions at the Directorate of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock of Takhar.

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Pakistan to offer 4,500 scholarships to Afghan students

Pakistan’s Ministry of Education stated in the past it had awarded scholarships to 6,000 Afghan students as part of phase one and two.

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Pakistan has announced it will provide 4,500 scholarships to Afghan students, as part of the Allama Iqbal Scholarship for Afghan Students program.

Asid Durrani, Pakistan’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said in a post on X that this is phase 3 of the program and that scholarships will be granted to Afghan students in natural sciences and social sciences across various universities in Pakistan.

However, Durani did not provide details regarding costs nor whether this would include female students.

Pakistan’s Ministry of Education stated in the past it had awarded scholarships to 6,000 Afghan students as part of phase one and two.

Following the suspension of education for girls in Afghanistan, several countries, including Germany, Japan, Iran, and Tajikistan, have also offered scholarships to Afghan girls.

 

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