Fabricated philanthropy in Gilgit-Baltistan: Greg Mortenson who?

Published: April 22, 2011

Gilgit-Baltistan’s community development workers appear to have no clue about Mortenson or his Central Asia Institute. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

GILGIT: Author of the international best-seller Three Cups of Tea Greg Mortenson seems to be less known in areas of Gilgit-Baltistan where his Central Asia Institute (CAI) claims to have built a number of schools.

It appears Mortenson did exaggerate the contribution he made to the education sector in Gilgit-Baltistan.

“He [Mortenson] had provided funds for constructing two rooms for a school,” Ejaz Ali, a resident of Reminji, told The Express Tribune. This is the area where, according to their website, the CAI has set up a school named Reminji Primary School.

The website also claims to have set up four schools in Ghizer but Dawar Ali, who teaches at a school in the nearby Yaseen Valley, did not know of any such school. “We have no information on such foreign-funded schools in our area,” he said.

Yasmin Ali, director of the National Education Foundation (NEF), said that she heads the programme in all districts of Gilgit-Baltistan but has no knowledge of CAI’s activities in the region. “In Gilgit-Baltistan, schools are either supported by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) or the government. There are also community-based schools run by the NEF,” she said.

Sherazullah Baig, a community development professional in Skardu, said that he had seen some broken buildings where CAI said it had built schools in parts of Baltistan.

‘Difficult to contact’

Some of the people that The Express Tribune spoke to said that the CAI had an office in Gilgit but, despite repeated attempts, his focal person Saeedullah Jan couldn’t be contacted as his mobile number remained switched off.

Amin Baig, a resident of Gojal and a prominent development activist who has worked in the valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan for years through the AKDN, also knew little about his activities. “Mortenson avoided meeting officials of other major organisations while carrying out his activities,” he said.

Ali Ahmed Jan, another prominent community worker who has been working in Ghizer Valley for nearly two decades, said that he had once met a CAI representative in Skardu. “I was in Boston, US, when some friends told me about the CAI and a vacancy that they had advertised in Gilgit-Baltistan. I applied but Mortenson refused to meet me,” Jan said.

However, Mohammad Ali Parvi, who was recently described as Mortenson’s blue-eyed boy in a regional Gilgit-Baltistan daily, told The Express Tribune by phone from Skardu that Mortenson had indeed set up 55 schools in the Baltistan region. “His school projects were of three categories. For existing schools, he only built infrastructure such as libraries. In the second category, he constructed buildings that were handed over to the government’s Social Action Programme and in the third category, he would manage the schools through the CAI,” Parvi explained.

But, Parvi said, he parted ways with his mentor [Greg Mortenson] last year after Mortenson authored a book that “contained anti-Islam comments” and criticised the culture of Baltistan. He said clerics had advised him not to extend support to Mortenson because he [Mortenson] was also assisting US forces in Afghanistan. After the book, Parvi said, over a dozen schools in Gilgit-Baltistan disassociated themselves from Mortenson and stopped receiving funds from him.

Mortenson might be sued

Meanwhile, one of the Pakistani tribesmen who Mortenson claimed had kidnapped him have decided to sue him, The Guardian reported.

Mansur Khan Mehsud, who featured in the photograph, said that Mortenson came to his village of Kot Langer Khel, in the Laddah area of South Waziristan, in July 1996. Mehsud is the research director of a think-tank in Islamabad that specialises in the tribal area.

Mehsud said that he had decided to file a lawsuit against Mortenson and was in contact with a lawyer in the US. “I am looking into how to sue him,” said Mehsud, who only found out about the story in the book when he was contacted in February this year by Jon Krakauer.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2011.

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