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Niinistö: Western countries failed to reach goals in Afghanistan

Europe will have to decide how many Afghan refugees it can take in and integrate, said the president.

Suomen tasavallan presidentti Sauli Niinistö Mäntyniemessa pihlajapuun edessä
President Sauli Niinistö said that Afghans who have served Finland will be helped. Image: Terhi Liimu / Yle
Yle News

According to Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, the fall of Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban shows that western countries failed in their goals of building democratic governance and civil society in the country.

Interviewed by Yle on Monday evening, the president declined to say whether leaving Afghanistan was a mistake by the US and other western countries. In his opinion, it is clear that Afghans who have served Finland will be helped.

"I guess the lesson from this is that it is quite difficult to take on a completely new kind of social structure and thinking. It takes generations, and of course there was a well-equipped extremist movement in Afghanistan all along," Niinistö said.

The president was asked whether western countries made mistakes by going into Afghanistan 20 years ago or by leaving this year. The last Finnish troops withdrew in June.

"I wouldn't talk so much about mistakes. The end result is that the [western] goal was not achieved. After all, there was a belief that events were moving in a positive direction. Now we face the fact that it is extremely difficult to change an entire country," Niinistö said.

In Niinistö's view, it is clear and reasonable that Finland should provide protection to those who have served Finns in Afghanistan.

Niinistö said that he was also relieved that the first plane with 18 Finnish evacuees left Kabul on Monday morning. However, there are still at least 20 Finnish citizens in Afghanistan.

Europe faces refugee question

The most immediate consequence of the situation, he said, will be the flow of refugees out of Afghanistan. Some of them will head for Europe, but that may take time and their numbers are difficult to estimate, he added.

"At that point, we will face the question of how many Finland and Europe will be able to take in, while ensuring that people can be properly integrated," he said.

At the moment, however, the refugee flow seems to be directed toward the east rather than the west, he said.

Another question is what role the Taliban takes once it comes to power.

"During their previous regime, they remained in Afghanistan and apparently settled for that, but still provided a kind of refuge for terrorists. If that continues, the impact from Afghanistan could potentially extend to the entire globe," he observed.

However, Niinistö does not believe that the change of regime in Afghanistan will have direct, immediate consequences on the overall patterns of world politics.

Niinistö noted that China and Russia have shown a desire to maintain a dialogue and retain their embassies in Kabul. He said it would be problematic if Afghanistan were to be isolated from the rest of the world while maintaining ties with only those two countries.

"I think that some kind of dialogue – though not a diplomatic one – is worth trying to build over time," Niinistö suggested.

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