Pope Francis has criticised the west’s recent involvement in Afghanistan – inadvertently quoting Vladimir Putin in doing so.
In a wide-ranging interview with Spanish radio station COPE, the pope was asked for his thoughts on the redrawn political map of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the US and its allies from the country after 20 years of war.
The pope said he had been moved by a quote from the Germany chancellor, Angela Merkel, whom he described as “one of the world’s great political figures”.
He said he would attempt to translate the quote into Spanish: “It is necessary to put an end to the irresponsible policy of intervening from the outside and building democracy in other countries, ignoring the traditions of the people.”
While the phrase was open to interpretation, he said he “felt a sense of wisdom” in Merkel’s words.
The words, however, were not uttered by Merkel but rather the Russian president last month as he demanded that countries stop meddling in Afghanistan during the chancellor’s recent visit to Moscow.
During the visit, which marked an end to one of Europe’s most complex and politically fraught relationships, Putin called on the west to “stop the irresponsible policy of imposing foreign values from abroad”, and characterised efforts to support the previous Afghan government as an attempt to “build democracy in other countries according to foreign templates”.
In the press conference with Putin, Merkel conceded that efforts to allow the Afghan population to collectively chart out its future had fallen short. “I must say that, in our development cooperation efforts, we did not want to force any system on Afghanistan,” she said.
“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,” she added.
In the pope’s interview, which aired on Wednesday after being recorded at the Vatican late last week, Francis said it appeared that “all eventualities were not taken into account” as western allies departed from Afghanistan.
“I don’t know if there will be any review [of what happened], but certainly there was a lot of deception perhaps on the part of the new authorities [of Afghanistan],” he said. “I say deceit or a lot of naiveté, I don’t understand.”
He called on Christians to engage in “prayer, penance and fasting”, describing the actions as what was needed in “moments of crisis” such as this one.
The radio station, which is owned by Spain’s Catholic bishops’ conference, said before the interview that the pope had been given the chance to vet the content before it aired.
The Vatican did not reply to a request for comment.