Afghanistan’s last finance minister has had quite a fall from grace as he is now an Uber driver in DC. He’s gone from dealing in billions of dollars to now dealing in hundreds instead for the sake of feeding his family.
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Khalid Payenda served as Afghanistan’s finance minister till last summer, handling a $6 billion budget — the lifeblood of an administration struggling to survive in a conflict that had always been a focal point of US foreign policy.
He was driving north on I-95 from his home in Woodbridge, Va., toward Washington, D.C., seven months after Kabul had succumbed to the Taliban. Payenda tapped at his phone and launched the Uber app, which gave his “quest” for the weekend. For the time being, his prosperity is assessed in hundreds of dollars instead of billions of dollars.
“If I complete 50 trips in the next two days, I receive a $95 bonus,” he explained as he handled the light Friday-night traffic, reports Stars And Stripes.
After depleting his family’s funds in Afghanistan, he needed a career to facilitate his wife and four children. The 40-year-old expressed his gratitude by saying, “I feel incredibly grateful for it,” “It means I don’t have to be desperate.” This was also a welcome break from worrying about his country’s unending catastrophe, which included a devastating drought, a pandemic, global sanctions, a failing economy, starvation, and the rebirth of Taliban authority.
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Senior US officials have mostly walked away from the Afghanistan conflict, which started with lofty aspirations of democracy, human rights, and women’s rights 20 years ago and concluded with an American president condemning Afghans, including a Payenda, for the wreckage that was left behind.
“So what’s happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country,” President Joe Biden said as desperate Afghans rushed to the airport the day after Kabul fell, adding: “We gave them every tool they could need. . . . We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”
Payenda was plagued by the dilemma of what had transpired and who was to blame. He held his fellow Afghans responsible. He explained, “We didn’t have the collective will to reform, to be serious,” He criticized the Americans for turning the country over to the Taliban, accusing them of forsaking the enduring ideals that had supposedly motivated their struggle. He was the one who was to blame.
“It eats at you inside,” he explained. He was torn between his old life in Afghanistan and a fresh start in the United States that he’d never truly desired. “Right now, I don’t have any place,” he explained. “I don’t belong here, and I don’t belong there. It’s a very empty feeling.”
He arrived in D.C. after crossing the Potomac River. Monuments to America’s democracy and Founding Fathers glowed against the night sky to his right. His Honda came to a halt in front of the Kennedy Center, where he was greeted by two George Washington University students.
They sat in the back seat of his vehicle and started conversing about their day — the sharp decline in temperatures, their dinner arrangements, and a mistake on the Metro train earlier that morning. One of the women said, “I dropped my phone and it slid down the entire car,” “It was the worst moment of my entire life.”
Payenda dropped the women off at their residence after a short trip and instantly examined his phone.
“Four-dollar tip,” he said.