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Pope inadvertently quotes Putin’s scathing criticism to chide West’s Afghan war

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Pope Francis has criticized the West’s recent 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.”

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“It’s necessary to stop the irresponsible policy of enforcing its own values on others and attempts to build democracy in other countries based on outside models without taking into account historic, ethnic, and religious issues and fully ignoring other people’s traditions,” the pope said, using his own translation into Spanish.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel enter a hall during a news conference following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on August 20, 2021. (Reuters)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel enter a hall during a news conference following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on August 20, 2021. (Reuters)

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.

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

“I don’t know if there will be any revision (of what happened during the withdrawal), but there was much deceiving from the new authorities (of Afghanistan),” said the pope. “Either that or just too much ingenuity. Otherwise, I don’t understand.”

Francis called for Christians across the world to engage in “prayer, penance and fasting” in the face of events in Afghanistan.

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