Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Afghanistan’s last finance minister now drives Uber in the United States

Khalid Poyneda

Khalid Payenda, who resigned as Afghanistan’s finance minister just a week before the Taliban seized Kabul, is now an Uber driver in the United States of America. He is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, earning USD 2,000 a semester.

In an interview with The Washington Post, the last finance minister of Ashraf Ghani’s administration said he feels “incredibly grateful” for his job as it allows him to provide for his family.

As 40-year-old Payenda recounted in the interview, he had resigned as finance minister after the-then Afghan president Ashraf Ghani called him to task at a public meeting over a payment the ministry had failed to make to a Lebanese company. When he saw Ghani’s rage, Payenda began to worry if he could be arrested on false charges. He revealed that he did not waste time in flying out of then strife-torn Kabul and arrived in the US. His family members had already left for the US a week earlier.

“Right now, I don’t have any place,” he said, adding: “I don’t belong here, and I don’t belong there. It’s a very empty feeling.”

In the former minister’s view, nobody is exempt from blame. He accused the Americans of turning Afghanistan over to the Taliban and letting go of the values that had driven them to fight. However, he also blamed himself and his fellow Afghans. “We didn’t have the collective will to reform, to be serious.”

Payenda learned of Kabul’s fall from TV and Twitter. “All we built was a house of cards that came down crashing this fast. A house of cards built on the foundation of corruption. Some of us in the government chose to steal even when we had a slim, last chance. We betrayed our people,” said the former minister.

Following this, Payenda’s fellow cabinet ministers started a WhatsApp group in which they directed their anger at those who had fled the country. Payenda said he was not part of the mudslinging because he didn’t see the point.

It is not the first time Khalid Payenda has left Afghanistan. In 1992, when he was 11 years old, his family emigrated to Pakistan as the civil war began in Afghanistan. “A decade later, after the Americans toppled the Taliban, he returned to co-found Afghanistan’s first private university,” mentioned the report.

Previously, he worked for the US Agency for International Development and the World Bank. His first visit to the United States was in 2008, when he attended the University of Illinois on a Fulbright scholarship.

After being appointed deputy finance minister in 2016, he set out to correct some of the faulty planning that had resulted in the government not being able to spend up to 50 per cent of its annual budget. During his time in government, he helped raise the amount spent to more than 90 per cent. He left the government in 2019 and temporarily relocated to the United States. He then returned to Kabul in November 2020 to work on a short-term project for Ghani when he was offered the position of finance minister. Despite the fact that his family opposed the offer, Payenda accepted and later regretted it.

The former minister also recalled that he once went to an illegal customs post outside Kandahar months before Kabul fell. When he asked the police officers running the operation, who made millions of dollars per day, he was held at gunpoint. The former minister still has a video of the incident on his phone.

“What had caused the massive corruption that had destroyed the Afghan state? Selfishness? Afghan bureaucratic incompetence? A US strategy that empowered warlords who were good at killing Taliban, no matter their ruthlessness or how much they stole?”

“Maybe there were good intentions initially, but the United States probably didn’t mean this,” said Khalid Payenda.

Read More

Ukraine is struggling in Donbass: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has admitted that the situation on the front line in the conflict with Russia is deteriorating, blaming the West for...