MADRID — Pope Francis has criticized the West's two-decade-long 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 United States and its allies withdrew from the Taliban-controlled country after 20 years of war, the pope said he would answer with a quote that he attributed to the German chancellor, 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," the pope said, using his own translation into Spanish.
But the words were spoken last month by the Russian president in the presence of Merkel, during her visit to Moscow.
During the meeting on Aug. 20, Putin scathingly criticized the West over Afghanistan, saying that the Taliban’s rapid sweep over the country has shown the futility of Western attempts to enforce its 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 press 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.”
“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 interview with Spain's Cadena COPE took place at the Vatican late last week. The radio station owned by Spain's Catholic bishops' conference aired the talk on 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 (about what happened during 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 naivety.”
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 is adjusting well to the removal of part of his colon and that he can now eat whatever he wants and leads “a totally normal life.”
He said that he expected his trip to Slovakia and Hungary between Sept. 12-15 would be as busy as previous ones and said he would continue visiting small European countries, including an upcoming tour taking him to Cyprus, Greece and Malta.
The pope also said he was expecting to appear and speak at the U.N.-sponsored COP26 climate talks in November in Glasgow.
AP reporters Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin, and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.