Payenda, 40, resigned as finance minister a week before the Taliban seized Kabul, when then-President Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country and lives in the United Arab Emirates now, lashed out at him in a public meeting and then privately upbraided him over his ministry’s failure to make a relatively small payment to a Lebanese company.
“He was angry and all over the place,” Payenda told the Post. Ghani had reportedly become mistrustful and short-tempered during the last days of his office as Taliban were marching towards Kabul, seizing provinces after provinces. Payenda says he didn’t think the government was about to fall but worried that Ghani might have him arrested on false charges. So he quickly boarded a plane to the United States, where his wife and children, who had left a week earlier, were waiting for him.
According to the Post, Payenda’s wife and children had split much of the previous six years between Kabul and their home in the Virginia suburbs. In 2015, they qualified for a Special Immigrant Visa, but Payenda said he never imagined “a future” for himself in the United States. “I only had one country, and it was Afghanistan,” he told the newspaper.
On Aug. 15, the day the government collapsed, Payenda woke around 2 p.m., still jet-lagged and exhausted from watching the news until dawn, and saw a text message from the World Bank’s country director in Kabul. “What a sad day,” it read.
Before starting to drive Uber, Payennda used to co-teaches a course on the war and reconstruction efforts at Georgetown University with an American colleague from Kabul. The teaching job paid only $2,000 a semester. He switched to driving Uber to support his wife and four children after he had exhausted his modest savings supporting his family. “I feel incredibly grateful for it,” he told the Post. “It means I don’t have to be desperate.” It was also a temporary reprieve from obsessing over the ongoing tragedy in his country, which was suffering through catastrophic drought, a pandemic, international sanctions, a collapsed economy, famine, and the resurgence of Taliban rule.