Afghanistan’s last finance minister, now Uber driver in Washington, blames US-backed Kabul govt. for failing ‘miserably

WASHINGTON, Mar 21 (APP): Khalid Payenda, who resigned as Afghanistan’s finance minister days before Kabul fell to the Taliban and now drives Uber taxi around Washington, has said that the country had 20 years and the whole world’s support to build a system that would work for the people, but “We miserably failed.”

According to a report in The Washington Post, Payenda, 40, who oversaw a $6 billion budget in his homeland but fled as the country teetered on the verge of collapse, also works as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

In an interview with the Post, he said he is grateful for the gigs that he has found as it helps him to provide for his family of wife and four children.

The Post reported that in one night earlier this week, the former Afghan minister made a little over $150 for six hours of ferrying people around the capital city,”not counting his commute – a mediocre night”.

Payenda also expressed gratitude towards the work he has been getting and said, “I feel incredibly grateful for it. It means I don’t have to be desperate.”

“Right now, I don’t have any place,” said. “I don’t belong here, and I don’t belong there. It’s a very empty feeling,” Khalid said. According to the former finance minister of Afghanistan, nobody is above blame, not even he himself.

While the US abandoned Afghans, Afghanistan did not have the collective will to reform, he said.

Recalling the last few days of his ministership, Payenda said he had resigned as the finance minister when President Ashraf Ghani pulled him up at a public meeting for his ministry’s failure to make a payment to a Lebanese company.

Seeing Ghani’s rage, Payenda feared that he might have arrested him on false charges. As he narrated how he landed in the US from then strife-torn Kabul, he said he quickly left the country and arrived in the US. His family members had left for the US a week before.

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

According to the former minister, nobody is above blame. Not even he himself. While the US abandoned Afghans, Afghanistan did not have the collective will to reform, he said.

Payenda got to know about Kabul’s fall from television and then on 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,” the former minister said in the interview.

In the following few days, Payenda’s former fellow ministers created a WhatsApp group where the anger was directed towards those who have fled the country. Payenda said he distanced himself from the mudslinging as he saw no point.

This is not the first time that Khalid Payenda has left his homeland. In 1992, when he was just 11, his family moved 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,” the report said.

He had worked for the US Agency for International Development and the World Bank, and in 2008 he came to the United States for the first time, attending the University of Illinois on a Fulbright scholarship.

In 2006, he became the deputy finance minister and in 2019, he relocated to the United States temporarily. In 2020, he returned to Kabul to work on a short-term project for President Ghani when he was offered the post of finance minister. His family was against the proposal and Payenda now regrets his decision.

Months before the fall of Kabul, the former minister said, he had made a visit to an illegal customs post outside Kandahar. When he questioned the police officers who were running the operations netting millions of dollars per day, he was held at the gunpoint, the video of which is still there on the minister’s cellphone.

“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?” the former minister said he carries these questions as he takes classes in Georgetown University.

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