(MENAFN- The Peninsula) The Washington Article
WOODBRIDGE, Virginia: Until last summertime, Khalid Payenda was Afghanistan’s finance minister, overseeing a $6 billion finances – the lifeblood of a govt preventing for its survival in a war that experienced lengthy been at the heart of US international coverage.
Now, 7 months right after Kabul had fallen to the Taliban, he was at the wheel of his Honda Accord, headed north on I-95 from his residence in Woodbridge, Virginia, towards Washington, DC. Payenda swiped at his cell phone and opened the Uber application, which provided his ‘quest’ for the weekend. For now, his results was calculated in hundreds of bucks instead than billions.
‘If I comprehensive 50 trips in the upcoming two times, I receive a $95 reward,’ he said as he navigated the gentle Friday-night time site visitors.
The career was his way of supporting his spouse and four youngsters after he burned as a result of his family’s price savings from Afghanistan. ‘I feel unbelievably grateful for it,’ explained the 40-yr-previous. ‘It implies I don’t have to be desperate.’ It was also a short term reprieve from obsessing over the ongoing tragedy in his place, which was suffering by way of a catastrophic drought, a pandemic, intercontinental sanctions, a collapsed financial system, a famine and the resurgence of Taliban rule.
Senior US officers have largely moved on from the Afghanistan war, which commenced 20 yrs before with significant-minded promises of democracy, human legal rights and women’s rights and ended with an American president blaming Afghans, this sort of as a Payenda, for the mess left driving.
‘So what’s transpired? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country,’ President Joe Biden stated as desperate Afghans rushed to the airport the working day soon after Kabul fell, including: ‘We gave them just about every resource they could will need. . . . We gave them just about every opportunity to decide their individual potential. What we could not supply them was the will to struggle for that future.’
The issue of what transpired and who was at fault haunted Payenda. He blamed his fellow Afghans. ‘We didn’t have the collective will to reform, to be severe,’ he mentioned. He blamed the People for handing the nation to the Taliban and betraying the enduring values that supposedly had animated their battle. He blamed himself.
‘It eats at you within,’ he mentioned. He felt trapped between his outdated daily life and desires for Afghanistan and a new everyday living in the United States that he had under no circumstances definitely needed. ‘Right now, I you should not have any location,’ he explained. ‘I you should not belong right here, and I don’t belong there. It truly is a pretty vacant sensation.’
He crossed the Potomac River into D.C. On his correct, monuments to America’s democracy and its Founding Fathers shone versus the night sky. His Honda rolled to a cease in front of the Kennedy Middle, exactly where two George Washington College pupils have been waiting for him.
They settled into the again seat of his sedan and began talking about their day – the sudden drop in temperature, their ideas for supper, a mishap earlier that early morning on the Metro practice. ‘I dropped my cell phone and it slid down the total motor vehicle,’ a single of the females was stating. ‘It was the worst moment of my total lifestyle.’
After a couple of minutes’ generate, Payenda dropped the women at their apartment and quickly checked his telephone.
‘Four-greenback tip,’ he said.
The phone that glowed on Payenda’s dashboard and led him to his next fare held the story of his last months in Afghanistan, in photographs, films and text messages.
He experienced resigned as finance minister a week prior to the Taliban seized Kabul, when then-President Ashraf Ghani lashed out at him in a general public conference and then privately upbraided him around the ministry’s failure to make a comparatively modest payment to a Lebanese corporation.
‘He was indignant and all about the position,’ Payenda recalled. The pressure of the Americans’ departure and the Taliban’s advancements experienced introduced out the worst in the Afghan president, who was tireless but also micromanaging, mistrustful and shorter-tempered, aides stated. Payenda didn’t believe the federal government was about to fall, but he felt he experienced missing the president’s rely on. A element of him even fearful that Ghani could have him arrested on fake expenses. So, he rapidly boarded a plane to the United States, in which his wife and youngsters, who had still left a 7 days earlier, were being waiting around for him.
On August 15, the day the federal government collapsed, Payenda woke around 2 pm, continue to jet-lagged and fatigued from watching the news right up until dawn, and noticed a text concept from the Earth Bank’s region director in Kabul.
‘What a sad day,’ it go through.
He glanced at Twitter, learned that the Taliban were now in cost of Afghanistan and typed a reply: ‘Now that it’s over, we had 20 a long time and the entire world’s assistance to develop a program that would perform for the individuals. We miserably failed. All we built was a dwelling of cards that arrived down crashing this rapid. A home of cards created on the foundation of corruption. Some of us in the authorities chose to steal even when we had a slim, last probability. We betrayed our folks.’
In the hours that followed, Payenda’s fellow cupboard ministers began exchanging messages on a WhatsApp group chat, very first of shock and issue for just one a different, and then anger. They blasted a member of Ghani’s interior circle who experienced fled the nation with the Afghan president and appeared to be reading their WhatsApp messages from the protection of exile.
‘Cursed is the lifetime of those people who fled,’ a person cabinet minister wrote.
‘You have a responsibility to us,’ one more complained. ‘We are like prisoners listed here, but you are on the outdoors. You can support.’
Payenda imagined about signing up for the free-for-fall but stayed silent. ‘What’s the stage?’ he recalled considering. ‘It would be like scratching a wound.’
Seven months later on, his previous placement of finance minister was held by a childhood close friend of Taliban founder Mohammad Omar who experienced manufactured a identify for himself all through the war by raising funds for suicide bombers in Kandahar.
As Payenda drove through Washington, the WhatsApp chats seemed as if they were being ‘from a various life time,’ he explained. ‘It’s like a part of my everyday living is a tale another person else informed me and that I have not lived.’ His auto radio was tuned to Delilah, a DJ mixing soft-rock tune dedications with guidance to the lovelorn. ‘I’m falling head over heels,’ confessed a woman who sensed her new boyfriend didn’t really feel the similar way.
‘Why would you want to be in such a 1-sided connection?’ Delilah questioned.
Payenda was scanning the sidewalk for his upcoming rider. ‘People call and explain to her their dilemmas,’ he explained of the radio host. ‘She’s just one of my favorites. She’s so intelligent.’
All evening, travellers cycled by the again seat of his auto. They gossiped about their pals – ‘Anthony claims, ‘I want to function for Gucci and Chanel,’ but he is not polished enough’ – and complained about their dinners. Often a rider would detect Payenda’s accent and check with him exactly where he was from and how extended he experienced been in the United States.
‘What’s it been like so far?’ a person requested.
‘Quite an adjustment,’ Payenda replied.
On this Friday evening, Payenda’s Uber app steered him past so lots of reminders from his old lifestyle.
There ended up the Earth Lender and International Financial Fund headquarters – boxy, contemporary buildings where Payenda had the moment attended instruction periods and conferences with fellow economists on his country’s potential.
He had been drawn to that get the job done by a motivation to help a homeland that he experienced fled as a baby. He was just 11 in 1992 when shelling broke out in his Kabul community – section of the civil war that adopted the Soviet-backed government’s collapse – and his family deserted their basement bunker for Pakistan. A 10 years afterwards, soon after the Individuals toppled the Taliban, he returned to co-observed Afghanistan’s to start with private college.
He believed in all the factors that the People explained they were being fighting for – democracy, women’s legal rights, human rights. He labored for the US Agency for Intercontinental Advancement and the Environment Lender, and in 2008 he came to the United States for the initial time, attending the College of Illinois on a Fulbright scholarship.
Even in the war’s later on a long time, after American ambitions had shrunk from leaving driving a steady, democratic state to just leaving, Payenda was portion of a small group of young, Western-educated reformers who nevertheless thought it was probable to build a competent and democratic point out. He turned deputy finance minister in 2016, identified to take care of some of the bad setting up that experienced still left the governing administration unable to shell out up to 50 p.c of its yearly spending plan. By the time he remaining governing administration in 2019 and relocated briefly to the United States, he’d aided strengthen the volume used to much more than 90 percent.
Two several years later, a nightmarish experience in a Kabul clinic drew him again to Afghanistan. In November 2020, he’d returned to the Afghan funds to function on a small-term job for Ghani when his mothers and fathers fell unwell with covid-19. Payenda cut limited his operate and used 13 times with them in an intense treatment device. ‘The worst 13 days of my everyday living,’ he said.
The medical center – a single of the greatest community amenities Kabul – couldn’t manage a $200 equipment to help his mom breathe. She died with Payenda at her bedside.
A number of months later on, Ghani made available him the job as finance minister. Payenda’s wife and previous colleagues urged him to reject the offer you: The Taliban ended up getting ground, the People were leaving, corruption was siphoning off huge sums of governing administration revenue and the menace of assassination was actual.
But the ailments at the clinic and his mother’s suffering confident Payenda that he experienced to choose the occupation. As extensive as he believed there was nonetheless a slim probability of accomplishment, he experienced to try.
Now, he tells his wife that he wished he experienced hardly ever approved the placement. ‘I observed a large amount of ugliness and we failed. I was section of the failure,’ he reported. ‘It’s tough when you glance at the distress of the individuals and you sense liable.’
Ahead of he experienced set out on his Friday-night time Uber change, Payenda experienced co-taught a system on the war and reconstruction attempts at Georgetown University with an American colleague from Kabul. The training work paid only $2,000 a semester, but Payenda didn’t do it for the money. He hoped that the course would aid his college students – future Condition Division officers and assist staff – see the conflict from the standpoint of all those on receiving stop of US and European help, somewhat than all those providing it.
The class was also a area where Payenda could get the job done as a result of the queries he nonetheless carried from the war. What had brought about the significant corruption that experienced ruined the Afghan point out? Selfishness? Afghan bureaucratic incompetence? An American method that empowered warlords who had been great at killing Taliban, no make a difference their ruthlessness or how a lot they stole?
A several months prior to Kabul fell, Payenda made a surprise stop by to an unlawful customs post outdoors Kandahar that was netting thousands and thousands of dollars for every day, revenue that the Afghan government and navy desperately desired. When he confronted the law enforcement officers, who were functioning the operation, they cocked and pointed their rifles at him. A video of the incident, saved on Payenda’s cellphone, shows his safety group shouldering their weapons and spiriting Payenda from the setting up.
Amid the biggest mysteries of all for Payenda was why US officers in his perspective had fundamentally handed the state to the Taliban in peace talks that had excluded an elected Afghan governing administration that it experienced spent much more than $1 trillion striving to create. Payenda knew Americans have been weary of Afghanistan. He and his spouse watched US tv dramas leaving them sensation ‘bombarded’ with the fictional portrayals of missing and disabled veterans whose life and been ruined by the war. ‘It’s so damaging and refined,’ he stated.
But he could not understand how US army officers and diplomats could so easily abandon the superior-minded principles that they said they experienced been fighting for all these several years. As he drove the streets of Washington, previous the properties where by so a lot of of the decisions about Afghanistan’s long run experienced been manufactured, it appeared to him as if the Americans’ assurances that they cared about democracy and human rights have been under no circumstances much more than a ‘pretense.’
‘Maybe there had been excellent intentions at first, but the United States almost certainly didn’t suggest this,’ he mentioned.
The moment a month or so a feel tank invited Payenda to discuss on a panel devoted to the current disaster in Afghanistan. Aid employees and former governing administration officers spoke of starving toddlers, moms marketing their kidneys and mothers and fathers advertising their daughters to survive. International corporations that could help, these kinds of as the World Bank, seemed doubtful how to supply guidance with out violating US sanctions on the Taliban.
Payenda was especially exasperated by Biden’s final decision to established aside $3.5 billion from the Afghan central bank’s $7 billion in frozen reserves for possible litigation involving survivors of the 9/11 attacks. The relaxation of the dollars would go to humanitarian support in Afghanistan. Payenda fearful that taken with each other the moves would ruin the Afghan currency, cripple the central bank and plunge even additional Afghans into desperate poverty. ‘It’s outrageous,’ he experienced complained on one of the imagine-tank panels. ‘This is the solitary major blow you can produce to the Afghan economic climate. The afghani would be a worthless, dirty aged piece of paper if you you should not have the property to back it up.’
Just right before midnight, Payenda picked up two youthful men from Lebanon heading home right after a night of partying. They talked about how very long they experienced been in the United States, how they missed their families back residence, and the Lebanese diaspora, fueled by decades of war. ‘I’ve listened to you can find a even larger Lebanese population exterior of Lebanon than in,’ Payenda stated.
The gentlemen were being executives with a construction business that builds educational institutions. ‘An emotionally fulfilling occupation,’ 1 of them reported. ‘Good for the community.’
Payenda assumed for a second. ‘It’s tangible,’ he agreed. ‘I worked in general public finance, and it truly is not tangible. Individuals say your finances is BS. It all will get ruined, and you can not even see the ruins.’
Payenda often imagined about obtaining a new career in which he could evidently see the final results of just about every day’s operate. He pictured himself buying and repairing up outdated houses or farming or opening a restaurant with his spouse.
He still worked on scientific tests and reports on Afghanistan for donors and assist teams, but there was not ample Afghanistan-similar get the job done these days to pay out the costs. Lately he was presented an intercontinental advancement task in Iraq, and though he was tempted to go, his spouse, Husnia Sidiqi, talked him out of it. They have four kids, ranging in age from 2 to 15. ‘The children will need you,’ she advised him. ‘And if you hold likely back again and forth you will in no way settle listed here.’
Just before the Taliban takeover, Payenda’s wife and children experienced split a great deal of the prior 6 yrs amongst Kabul and their residence in the Virginia suburbs. In 2015, they competent for a Exclusive Immigrant Visa, but Payenda explained he under no circumstances imagined ‘a future’ for himself in the United States. ‘I only had just one country, and it was Afghanistan,’ he reported.
From time to time when he was driving, his views turned to his 75-yr-outdated father, who in August experienced been way too frail to fight through the crowds swarming the Kabul airport and escape. He knew that he could have conveniently helped his father secure a Turkish visa right before the state fell to the Taliban, but he did not be expecting the collapse to occur so promptly. ‘My major regret is that we were being so targeted on reforms that we forgot the greater things,’ he said. ‘It would have taken me an hour to get the visa.’ He believed about his former colleagues, which includes his director general for customs, who had been wounded in the August airport bombing and was caught as very well. He wished he’d finished a lot more to help them.
Payenda checked his Uber app, which was presenting him a $19 reward if he finished three consecutive rides in between 1 and 2 a.m. He dropped a rider at a dance club and ferried a few dwelling. His last trip of the night was an intoxicated 20-one thing who spent a lot of the journey unleashing a string of generally superior-natured profanities at the traffic lights and the out of the blue chilly weather.
‘He cursed so a great deal,’ Payenda stated as the man stumbled towards his entrance doorway. Most of the individuals Payenda picked up immediately after 1 am – when the Uber bonuses had been ordinarily the greatest – had been intoxicated. ‘I have seen a lot of unhappiness and hollowness,’ he explained, ‘people who operate really hard all 7 days so they can go get wasted.’
Payenda clocked off the Uber application and headed home. With strategies he experienced netted a very little about $150 for six hours’ do the job, not counting his commute – a mediocre night.
It was a small right after 2 am when he pulled into his community of two-tale colonials with American flags, basketball hoops and modest, patchy lawns. For the initially couple months that he drove, his wife would wait around up for him to make confident that he had designed it property securely. Now she no more time worried as a great deal and remaining the corridor gentle on.
Like so quite a few Afghans who experienced escaped the nation, when Payenda tried out to picture a new foreseeable future for himself, his feelings turned to his children. ‘I think a satisfied, meaningful life is 1 exactly where you increase responsible little ones who are knowledgeable and are not as well spoiled or far too materialistic,’ he said.
He required to expose them to Afghanistan’s poetry, its record and its songs. And he required them to be mindful of its struggles.
But he failed to want to burden them – even his 15-12 months-aged son – with stories of poverty and hunger. ‘He need to be safeguarded from that,’ Payenda reported, ‘but not way too a great deal.’
Payenda sat in his driveway in the darkish listening to Afghan tracks of love and religion that had been a part of his lifestyle since childhood and that the Taliban now insisted were forbidden by Islam. He turned off the auto and walked stiffly up his brick route, his back again and legs aching from several hours of sitting.
He seen a glow from driving the curtains in the upstairs playroom, exactly where his children had overlooked to transform off the lights.