CW: This article references violence in Afghanistan. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources.
A coalition government that includes both Taliban and non-Taliban entities is essential to ensure the political and economic survival of Afghanistan, former Acting Minister of Finance of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Khalid Payenda said in a panel event Wednesday.
The event, titled “Afghanistan: On the Brink of Collapse,” was sponsored by the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and moderated by SFS Dean Joel Hellman. A limited number of Georgetown students, faculty and staff attended the hybrid event in person while the remainder of students and staff accessed the panel through a Facebook livestream.
Less than three weeks before the event, Payenda resigned as Afghanistan’s acting finance minister due to personal reasons. On Aug. 21, only nine days later, Taliban militants took control of Kabul after former Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai fled the country, effectively leaving control to the Taliban.
For Paydena, Ghani’s flight from Afghanistan was particularly disappointing and went against previous assurances from the administration.
“I was extremely shocked and saddened by the president’s departure because of assurances he gave to everybody that he would stay and fight till the end,” Payenda said at the event. “It was a shock, something that is still sinking in, for not just me, for a lot of people, millions of people. A country that despite its problems on a trajectory that was upward to suddenly undo 20 years of work — it was a shock.”
Ghani’s flight came after Taliban forces captured several cities in provincial capitals throughout Afghanistan. Despite the increasing Taliban military victories in cities around the country, the former Afghan government had enough finances to ensure the government could survive for a few more years until a peace deal could be reached with the Taliban, according to Payenda.
Given the chaos currently unfolding in the country, a government with different political perspectives is the key to ensuring Afghanistan’s survival, according to Payenda, who cited the exclusion of a Taliban perspective in the 2001 Bonn agreement, which attempted to establish a new Afghani constitution protecting the rights of women and minority groups, as a crucial misstep in Afghanistan’s attempt to restructure the country after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
As a new government is formed, Payenda hopes the Taliban will consider negotiating a compromise government despite the past.
“I hope there is a talk on forming a government. We should learn from the 2001 Bonn agreement where we left out the Taliban. I think that was a historic mistake,” Payenda said. “For the Taliban to repeat it to the other side would still be a mistake. An inclusive government is important.”
For Payenda, as the nation rebuilds, it is also important to address the issues of the previous government, including corruption, in order to ensure the safety and well-being of Afghan citizens.
Corruption in the customs sector of the financial ministry directly led to the disintegration of the Afghan government and subsequent economic instability, according to Payenda. The Afghan government was historically corrupt, with government officials frequently taking multimillion dollar bribes.
To address corruption, the Afghan parliament worked in conjunction with the World Bank, which was responsible for the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, a multi-donor trust overseen by the World Bank, to safeguard international donor funds and provide public services to the Afghan people. Taliban forces, however, have closed banks and frozen financial budgets, reopening the door for corruption, according to Payenda.
“Without continuation of the grants and donations, no matter no matter how well you re-equip these institutions, it’s going to be impossible,” Payenda said.
Despite the uncertainty over the future of Afghanistan and its government, for Payenda, the United States and international humanitarian groups can still play important roles in ensuring the future of Afghanistan.
“I believe the situation could be somehow salvaged with the leverage that the international community still has because the Taliban know they cannot run a government without the finances and the technical assistance that comes from other countries,” Payenda said.
Resources: On-campus resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949) and Counseling and Psychiatric Service (202-687-7080); additional off-campus resources include the District of Columbia Office of Refugee Resettlement (202-698-4316).