“Three Cups of Tea”

The debate following the allegations against Greg Mortenson in the CBS “60 Minutes” has been very critical and strong. The program indeed did a good job by exposing the controversies with the book, and starting a debate of accountability for all. There are many serious questions raised in the TV program. For instance, even if we ignore the fabrication or exaggeration of Mortenson’s story of the events that took place after his failure to climb K-2, but the fact is that there are many schools claimed to be built by Mr. Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute, but the Government officials and investigation by journalists show even the number of schools has been less than the number told in description of the “Three Cups of Tea”.

Government officials in Kabul have said many of the schools claimed by CAI do not exist in Afghanistan. Other than that, even if we ignore the fact of his deliberate fabrication of stories in the best-selling book, the financial mismanagement at the Central Asia Institute needs an investigation, as it has been started already. The amount collected from the pocket money of kids at schools under the fund-raising programs dubbed as “Penny for Peace” has been spent in luxurious traveling for book promotion, of which no profit is contributed to the CAI funds in supporting schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its shame.

The most serious and ridiculous lie in the book “Three Cups of Tea” is about part of the story when Mr. Mortenson, as claimed, has been kidnapped. In a photo included in the book, with some armed men and Mortenson standing among them, the author says he was kidnapped by those “Taliban” in 1996. One of the men in the photos is Mansur Khan Mehsud, a think-tank analyst based in Islamabad. He has written reports for the New America Foundation. But strange is that he didn’t know or react on his photo being shown as a Talib in a book before controversy became world headlines. Mr. Mehsud strongly denies the fabrication about Mr. Mortenson’s abduction with a proof of another photo showing Mortenson with a machine gun among the tribal persons, whom he has declared Taliban in his book. This is the most serious and damaging part of his fabrication and Mr. Mehsud has all rights to sue the author.

However, despite all these serious lies being presented as truth, there is something that we all have to appreciate about Mr. Mortenson and his works. The allegations might be very convincing blow to Mortenson, but the hard facts of ground realities are that he has worked with all his honesty and mission for educating girls, the most voiceless and suppressed part of the societies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are many of his good examples of successful functioning schools across the country. His campaign to raise voice for education has been very important.

What Mr. Mortenson needs to do is to change the luxurious travels and using charity funds for his book-promotion, and make changes in the organization he runs. But he should not be discouraged from the criticism, and continue the good work he has done, albeit with more accountability.

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