Dr. William Byrd is a development economist whose academic background includes a doctorate in economics from Harvard University and a master's degree in East Asian Regional Studies from the same institution. He joined USIP in April 2012 as a senior expert, working on Afghanistan.

Dr. Byrd had long experience at the World Bank, where most of his work was country-focused, including China, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He lived for significant lengths of time in all of these countries and speaks Dari and Chinese, with some knowledge of other languages. During 2002-2006, he was stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he served as the World Bank’s country manager for Afghanistan and then as economic adviser.

Dr. Byrds' publications include six books on China, other books, and numerous articles, among them several papers on Afghanistan, as well as a number of World Bank reports. Examples include reports on Afghanistan’s economic development, public finance management, economic cooperation in the wider Central Asia region, vulnerabilities to corruption assessments, Afghanistan’s drug industry, and economic incentives and development initiatives to reduce opium production, as well as papers on these topics, security sector reform from a financial and development perspective, and on responding to Afghanistan’s development challenge.

Publications By William

Demands for Prompt Return of Afghan Central Bank Reserves Miss the Full Picture

Demands for Prompt Return of Afghan Central Bank Reserves Miss the Full Picture

Monday, August 15, 2022

By: William Byrd, Ph.D.

On August 10, a group of more than 70 international economists sent an open letter to U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urging the U.S. administration to promptly return more than $7 billion of Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves, held at the New York Federal Reserve Bank, to Afghanistan’s central bank (Da Afghanistan Bank; DAB). The letter followed similar pleas by U.N. officials and others. However, following the killing of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a U.S. drone strike in Kabul on July 31, the administration announced it will not release any of the reserves for recapitalization of DAB. The economists’ letter, though well-intentioned like other requests to return the reserves to DAB, does not take into account the very real constraints imposed by the U.S. legal system and judicial proceedings, as well as serious problems at DAB.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

One Year Later, Taliban Unable to Reverse Afghanistan’s Economic Decline

One Year Later, Taliban Unable to Reverse Afghanistan’s Economic Decline

Monday, August 8, 2022

By: William Byrd, Ph.D.

Afghanistan’s economy was already deteriorating before the Taliban takeover of the country on August 15, 2021, suffering from severe drought, the COVID-19 pandemic, declining confidence in the previous government, falling international military spending as U.S. and other foreign troops left, human and capital flight, and Taliban advances on the battlefield. Then came the abrupt cutoff of civilian and security aid (more than $8 billion per year, equivalent to 40% of Afghanistan’s GDP) immediately after the Taliban takeover. No country in the world could have absorbed such an enormous economic shock — exacerbated by sanctions, the freezing of Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves and foreign banks’ reluctance to do business with the country.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

Why Have the Wars in Afghanistan and Ukraine Played Out So Differently?

Why Have the Wars in Afghanistan and Ukraine Played Out So Differently?

Thursday, June 23, 2022

By: William Byrd, Ph.D.

The Taliban insurgency and U.S. troop withdrawal, and Russian incursions culminating in the February 24 invasion, constituted existential “stress tests” for Afghanistan and Ukraine, respectively. Ukraine and its international supporters have succeeded in preventing an outright Russian victory, imposing severe and continuing costs on Russia — ranging from high casualties to financial sanctions. Whatever happens next, the invasion has solidified Ukraine’s national will, status and orientation as an independent, Western-oriented sovereign country. In sharp contrast, Afghanistan’s government and security forces collapsed within a month after U.S. troops left the country, its president and many others fled, and the Taliban rapidly took over.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

Ukraine War Fallout Will Damage Fragile States and the Poor

Ukraine War Fallout Will Damage Fragile States and the Poor

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

By: William Byrd, Ph.D.

The world is gripped by the Russian invasion of Ukraine — already the most destructive European conventional military conflict since World War II. The damage being done most tragically to Ukraine, indirectly to Europe (not least the burden of refugee inflows) and to Russia (including as a result of crushing sanctions) is only too obvious. But the repercussions will be wider — for the global economy more generally and disproportionately for poorer countries, especially those affected by conflict and state fragility.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global PolicyFragility & Resilience

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