Pope Criticizes Western Intervention in Afghanistan

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In a wide-ranging interview with a Spanish-language radio network, Francis said he was in good health after colon surgery in July, and insisted that he had not considered resigning.

Pope Criticizes Western Intervention in Afghanistan
Pope Francis during an interview in Vatican City with the journalist Carlos Herrera of the Spanish radio network COPE.Credit...Carlos Herrera/COPE, via Reuters

ROME — Pope Francis criticized Western involvement in Afghanistan in an interview released on Wednesday, saying it showed the flaws of exporting Western values and nation-building.

Francis, 84, also said he felt healthy after colon surgery in July, and insisted that he never thought about quitting during his health troubles, trying to dispel any talk that he might follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and resign.

The interview was with the Spanish radio network COPE, and was recorded last week at the pope’s residence in Vatican City.

Speaking about the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan over the past couple of weeks, the pope said “all eventualities were not taken into account” when the Western allies left.

President Biden has staunchly defended the withdrawal, which was engulfed at times in deadly violence. But he has come under widespread criticism abroad and at home, where many moderate Democrats were furious at the Biden administration for what they saw as terrible planning for the evacuation of Americans and their allies.

The pope cited a quote he attributed to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, saying it was necessary to put an end to the “irresponsible policy” of intervening from outside and trying to build democracy in other countries.

But it turns out the pope misattributed the quote, which was actually spoken by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia during a news conference with Ms. Merkel last month in Moscow. Mr. Putin said the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan showed it was time for the West to end its “irresponsible policy of imposing someone’s outside values from abroad.”

In the interview with the radio network, Francis again called on Catholics to pray and fast to show solidarity with the people of Afghanistan, as he had done last Sunday.

He laughingly slapped down speculation in the Italian news media about his imminent resignation, saying that apart from taking postoperative medications, he was now able to lead a totally normal life, to eat whatever he wanted and to travel regularly.

“Whenever a pope is ill,” he said, “there is always a breeze or a hurricane of conclave.”

Francis also commented on some of the latest turmoil within the church.

He defended the church’s handling of clerical abuse of minors, saying “there have been very clear steps taken on this,” including establishing a commission for the protection of minors and a global meeting at the Vatican to better confront an issue that is wearing away trust in the institution.

He addressed a more current scandal, a corruption trial that began in July involving a real estate venture in London. Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, once one of the Vatican’s highest-ranking prelates, is among those charged. He has denied the accusations.

Corruption must be battled, the pope said, “but it is an old story.” He added that the recent restructuring of the Vatican’s justice system would help root out wrongdoing, as had happened in the London real estate case, which began with an in-house complaint.

“In addition to the presumption of innocence,” Francis said of Cardinal Becciu, “I want everything to turn out well.”

Francis also touched on some of the cornerstones of his papacy, among them the need to better integrate the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have been forced to leave their countries because of war, poverty and, increasingly, climate change.

“With regard to migrants, four attitudes: welcome, protect, promote and integrate,” he said, adding that the migration crisis had to be addressed as a global issue and not by individual countries.

Emma Bubola contributed reporting.