Pope Francis, inadvertently quoting Putin, criticizes the West’s role in Afghanistan

Pope Francis
Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday.
(Andrew Medichini / Associated Press)

Pope Francis has criticized the West’s 20-year involvement in Afghanistan as an outsider’s attempt to impose democracy — although he did it by citing Russia’s Vladimir Putin while thinking he was quoting Germany’s Angela Merkel.

Asked during a radio interview aired Wednesday about the new political map taking shape in Afghanistan after the U.S. and its allies withdrew, the pope said he would answer with a quote that he attributed to Merkel, whom he described as “one of the world’s greatest political figures.”

“It is necessary to put an end to the irresponsible policy of intervening from outside and building democracy in other countries, ignoring the traditions of the peoples,” Francis said, using his own translation into Spanish.


But those words were actually spoken last month by Putin during Merkel’s visit to Moscow.

During the Aug. 20 meeting between the two leaders, Putin scathingly criticized the West over Afghanistan, saying that the Taliban’s rapid sweep across the country had shown the futility of Western attempts to impose their own vision of democracy. Merkel, meanwhile, urged Russia to use its contacts with the Taliban to press for Afghan citizens who helped Germany to be allowed to leave Afghanistan.

During her news conference with Putin, Merkel conceded that “on another project — namely, for there to be a collective position of the Afghan population for its own future — we did not achieve our goals. I want to say that very openly.”

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“I must say that, in our development cooperation efforts, we did not want to force any system on Afghanistan,” she added. “But we saw that millions of girls were glad to go to school and that women could participate. There are many in Afghanistan who are very, very unhappy about developments now.”

The pope’s radio interview with Spain’s Cadena COPE took place at the Vatican late last week. The radio station owned by the Spanish Catholic bishops’ conference aired the talk Wednesday and said that its content had been vetted by the pope himself.

Francis also said that “not all eventualities were taken into account” in the departure of Western allies from Afghanistan.


“I don’t know whether there will be a review or not [of the withdrawal], but certainly there was a lot of deception perhaps on the part of the new [Afghan] authorities,” said the pope. “I say deceit or a lot of naivete.”

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He said he believed that the Vatican’s top diplomat was offering to engage in Afghanistan to make sure that locals don’t suffer, and called for Christians across the world to engage in “prayer, penance and fasting” in the face of events in Afghanistan.

In the interview, Pope Francis addressed direct questions about his health for the first time since he underwent bowel surgery in early July.

He said his body was adjusting well to the removal of part of his colon and that he could now eat whatever he wanted.

He said that he expected his Sept. 12-15 trip to Slovakia and Hungary would be as busy as previous ones and said he would continue visiting small European countries, including an upcoming tour that will take him to Cyprus, Greece and Malta.


The pope also said he was expecting to appear and speak at the United Nations-sponsored COP26 climate talks in November in Glasgow, Scotland.