America’s Fight for Democracy Was a ‘Pretense’: Afghanistan’s Last Finance Minister

  • Khalid Payenda, Afghanistan’s last finance minister, called America’s fight for democracy in his country a “pretense.”
  • Payenda told The Washington Post that he blames Americans, his fellow Afghans, and himself for his country’s fall.
  • Payenda drives for Uber in Washington, DC, and teaches at Georgetown University to support his family.

Afghanistan’s last finance minister, who now drives for Uber in Washington, DC, said America’s fight for democracy in his former country was a “pretense.” 

Khalid Payenda told The Washington Post he has been haunted by the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. Among those he blames are the Americans who touted their mission as upholding democracy and human rights in the region.

“Maybe there were good intentions initially, but the United States probably didn’t mean this,” Payenda said.

America withdrew from Afghanistan in August of 2021 after two decades of war.

Several months before the Taliban swiftly seized control over Afghanistan, former President Donald Trump’s administration signed a conditional peace deal with the militant group in February 2020, promising to pull out US troops over the course of 14 months. The deal notably did not include the Afghan government. 

The original date for the full withdrawal of US forces in Afghanistan was September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Meanwhile, in July, President Joe Biden had been rejecting the prospect of Taliban takeover. The forthcoming collapse of Afghan security forces and rapid advance by the Taliban took officials by surprise. 

The messy withdrawal from Afghanistan proved to be a low point for Biden. A terrorist attack near the Kabul airport had killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 US service members, marking the deadliest day for US military members in the country since 2011. Days later, a US drone strike intended to prevent another ISIS-K attack mistakenly targeted an aid worker — killing 10 civilians, including seven children.

Biden defended the decision to stay the course and withdraw troops by the September deadline, blaming the Taliban’s success on Afghanistan political leaders who he said “gave up and fled the country.” He later chose to release only half of Afghanistan’s $7 billion reserve funds held in the US to the country for humanitarian aid, as the country began to spiral into immense poverty and Afghans have taken desperate measures to stay alive.  The move triggered backlash from critics who said the sum of the money belongs to the people of Afghanistan. 

“We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we couldn’t provide them was the will to fight for that future,” Biden said in an address to the nation on August 16 last year. 

Payenda told the Post he blames Afghans as well, but also Americans for giving up on the values that were supposed to be the very reason for their fight. 

“We didn’t have the collective will to reform, to be serious,” said Payenda, who became the deputy finance minister in 2016 before leaving government in 2019.

Payenda also said he blames himself, telling the Post that he wished he never accepted the position as finance minister near the end of 2020. 

“I saw a lot of ugliness and we failed. I was part of the failure,” Payenda said. “It’s difficult when you look at the misery of the people and you feel responsible.”

Payenda works as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, which pays a mere $2,000 per semester, but he told the Post he doesn’t do it for the money. Rather, Payenda said, he wants to teach students who could someday be government officials to see the conflict from the point of view of those who need US aid and intervention.

Payenda told the Post he’s “incredibly grateful” for his gig with Uber, which he said supports his wife and four children. 

“It means I don’t have to be desperate,” he said. 

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