Biography of Omar Zakhilwal

By S. Ghilzai / February 3, 2016
Last updated by Abdullah Qazi / August 8, 2020

Omar Zakhilwal

Omar Zakhilwal is an Afghan politician.

Omar Zakhilwal is a Pashtun who was born in either Badakhshan, Nangarhar or Jalalabad – details are not known – in 1968. As a young adult, Zakhilwal’s family moved from Afghanistan, to Pakistan, and finally to Canada, as refugees, because of the Soviet invasion.

He attended University of Winnipeg in Canada, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, then went on to Queen’s University, also in Canada, for his Master’s degree, also in Economics. He then completed his PhD, again in Economics at Carelton University in 2001.

According to an an unclassified WikiLeaks cable (August 5, 2008), Zakhilwal is described as a “strong advocate of the free market” and of the private sector. Reportedly, he believes the role of government is to give the free-market economy the space to flourish.

Zakhilwal has held numerous jobs in the Afghan government since the fall of the Taliban in 2001; including being a member of the Supreme Council of Da Afghanistan Bank (Afghanistan’s Central Bank), and more importantly, the Minister of Finance, under both President Hamid Karzai and President Ashraf Ghani (March 3,  2009 – February 1, 2015).

In 2010, while serving as the Minister of Finance, Zakhilwal was implicated in one of the transactions associated with the Kabul Bank scandal. In fact, he admitted receiving a very large sum of money ($200,000) from Kabul Bank officials. He said that the money was for the re-election campaign of Hamid Karzai, and that he kept no record of the transaction. He said he handed the cash over to the campaign headquarters.

Zakhilwal was also accused of stashing more than $1 million in overseas banks, and a total of $950,000 was reportedly shown to have been deposited in the bank accounts of his relatives.

In 2014, Hamid Karzai’s brother, Mahmood Karzai told the Afghan news channel Tolo News that Zakhilwal was a thief. “One of the thieves is Omar Zakhilwal, our Minister of Finance, who has been looting [the Afghan government],” Mahmood Karzai told Tolo News.

Zakhilwal was never convicted of any criminal activity or corruption.

About a year after he was replaced as Minister of Finance with Eklil Ahmad Hakimi, on February 9, 2016, Zakhilwal became Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Pakistan, under President Ashraf Ghani. He stepped down from that position in August 2018.

Since stepping down, he has had no official government position, however, he has still been active in politics and regularly shares his views on current events. In January 2020, in an an interview with Ariana News, he praised Pakistan’s role in the peace talks with the Taliban, and criticized the Afghan government for not being ready to negotiate peace.

Zakhilwal is a big fan of cricket, and in fact, he had even served as the President of the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB).

Zakhiwal has published articles and research papers in a wide range of subjects- all focused on issues in Afghanistan- in journals and newspapers around the world. He authored Afghanistan’s First National Human Development Report, for the United Nations Development Programme in 2007, and won best analysis for the document in June of the same year.

Zakhilwal is married and has a son who was born in 2003.

Video: Interview with Omar Zakhilwal (added August 7, 2020)

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