When one Washington-area Uber driver thinks of the life that could have been, he is recalling his days as Afghanistan’s finance minister.
Khalid Payenda, who fled Afghanistan for fear of becoming a political victim as the nation fell to the Taliban, now lives in Woodbridge, Virginia, and makes his living as an Uber driver, The Washington Post reported.
“If I complete 50 trips in the next two days, I receive a $95 bonus,” he said during a recent Friday night.
It’s not what was, but Payenda does not complain.
“I feel incredibly grateful for it,” he told the Post. “It means I don’t have to be desperate.”
Payenda said there is a lot of blame to go around for the end of the Afghan government of which he was a part.
Until last summer, Khalid Payenda was Afghanistan’s finance minister, overseeing a $6 billion budget. Now, seven months after Kabul had fallen to the Taliban, he’s driving an Uber in D.C. to support his family. (via @GregJaffe for @washingtonpost) https://t.co/Yo5G8ldc4d
— Apple News (@AppleNews) March 20, 2022
“We didn’t have the collective will to reform, to be serious,” he said, blaming the U.S. for giving the nation to the Taliban but noting that its former officials, himself included, are also tainted.
“It eats at you inside,” he said.
Payenda has also come to wonder if American claims of concern for his nation were “pretense.”
“Maybe there were good intentions initially, but the United States probably didn’t mean this,” he said.
— Khalid Payenda (@KhalidPayenda) March 2, 2022
Payenda said his life in Afghanistan seems “from a different lifetime.”
“It’s like a part of my life is a story someone else told me and that I have not lived,” he said.
Amid gratitude for survival in America, there is also an inner restlessness, Payenda told the Post.
“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.”
Last August, he left after an argument with former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani after which he feared he could be arrested.
“He was angry and all over the place,” Payenda said.
He and his family fled to the U.S., where he learned of his nation’s swift fall amid the Biden administration’s chaotic U.S. withdrawal from the country.
Payenda had a message to those in Kabul with whom he kept in touch: “Now that it’s over, we had 20 years and the whole world’s support to build a system that would work for the people. We miserably failed. 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.”
He had accepted the post of finance minister in 2020, despite advice not to take the job, as storm clouds were closing in.
“I saw a lot of ugliness, and we failed. I was part of the failure,” he told the Post. “It’s difficult when you look at the misery of the people and you feel responsible.”
And even as a Uber driver, Payenda sees the world from a dark perspective.
“I have seen a lot of sadness and hollowness,” he said, “people who work hard all week so they can go get wasted.”
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