After leaving Afghanistan when the Taliban took over the U.S.-supported government last August, former Finance Minister Khalid Payenda is now an Uber driver in Washington D.C.
The 40-year-old former official served under Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who was reportedly accused of taking $169 million worth of state funds after fleeing to the United Arab Emirates.
Given his deteriorating relationship with Ghani, he resigned from his post a week before the Taliban captured Kabul and moved to the U.S. to be with his family.
On the day the capital fell, Payenda sent a text message to a World Bank official in Kabul: “We had 20 years and the whole world’s support to build a system that would work for the people. All we built was a house of cards that came down crashing this fast. A house of cards built on the foundation of corruption.”
As finance minister, he oversaw the country’s $6 billion budget during his tenure. These days, he spends hours driving for Uber to make ends meet.
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“If I complete 50 trips in the next two days, I receive a $95 bonus,” Payenda shared in an interview with the Washington Post, for which reporter Greg Jaffe joined him during a trip.
He also spoke about a recent “mediocre night” during which he earned over $150 for six hours of driving his Honda Accord.
While Payenda says he is currently thankful that he is able to support his family, he still feels that “right now, I don’t have any place. I don’t belong here and I don’t belong there. It’s a very empty feeling.”
Payenda reportedly took on the role of finance minister after his mother died of COVID-19 in late 2020. He told The Post that he now wishes he had not taken on the position.
“I saw a lot of ugliness, and we failed,” he was quoted as saying. “I was part of the failure. It’s difficult when you look at the misery of the people and you feel responsible.”
“We didn’t have the collective will to reform, to be serious,” he said.
“Maybe there were good intentions initially but the United States probably didn’t mean this,” Payenda added.