We will refrain from commenting until more information (and disinformation) is released by both sides - and leave Mortenson’s passionate defense to others. However, this new controversy doesn’t change our opinion that Pentagon officials manipulated Mortenson to sell a softer side in Afghanistan, and thus extend what remains a predominately militarized counterinsurgency under the banner of educating Afghans.
Bestselling author Greg Mortenson has issued a written response to a "60 Minutes" report calling into question his philanthropic practices and his experiences in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mortenson chronicled those experiences in the books "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones Into Schools" and leads the Central Asia Institute, an international charity that supports schools in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Steve Kroft's "60 Minutes" report cited accounts that contradicted essential parts of Mortenson's story, and calls into question the way funds are allocated by the charity. The report, which aired Sunday night, is embedded above; "60 Minutes" posted Mortenson's response on its website. The following is from that statement.
60 Minutes' question: Did you really stumble into Korphe after failing to summit K2? The two porters who accompanied you on your journey down from K2 have told us you did not. We have three other sources that support the porters' accounts. The evidence suggests that you did not step foot in Korphe until a year later.
Greg Mortenson: Yes, I first visited Korphe village, Braldu valley, Baltistan, Pakistan, after failing to summit K2 in 1993, and met Haji Ali, a long time dear mentor and friend. My second visit to Korphe was in 1994. I made two visits to Korphe in 1995, the year we built the bridge over the Braldu River. And I again made two visits to Korphe in 1996, the year we built the Korphe School.
Mortenson further told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, "The time about our final days on K2 and ongoing journey to Korphe village and Skardu is a compressed version of events that took place in the fall of 1993." He also told the paper, "As the co-author of the book, along with David Oliver Relin, I am responsible for the content in the book. There were many people involved in the story and also those who produced the manuscript. What was done was to simplify the sequence of events for the purposes of telling what was, at times, a complicated story."
Mortenson's written response continued:It is important to know that Balti people have a completely different notion about time. Even the Balti language -- an archaic dialect of Tibetan -- has only a vague concept of tenses and time. For example, "now" can mean immediately or sometime over the course of a whole long season. The concept of past and future is rarely of concern. Often tenses are left out of discussion, although everyone knows what is implied. And if a person is a day or a week late or early it doesn't matter. The Balti consider the western notion of time quite amusing.
Language and perceptions of time seem to be coming into some kind of conflict. In his written statement, Mortenson looks to language, and an underlying difference in worldview, to blame for accounts that contradict his own. That's the same position he takes when responding to the television show's next question.
Question: Were you kidnapped for eight days by the Taliban in Waziristan in 1996? Three of the men in the photo you published in "Stones Into Schools" deny that they kidnapped you and say they are not Taliban. We have two other sources of information that support their account.
Mortenson: Yes, I was detained for eight days in Waziristan in 1996. It was against my will, and my passport and money were taken from me. I was not mistreated or harmed, but I was also not allowed to leave. A blanket was put over my head any time I was moved by vehicle. A "Talib" means student in Arabic, and, yes, there were Taliban in the region. Waziristan is an area where tribal factions and clan ties run deep. Some people are Taliban, some are not, and affiliations change overnight often on a whim. The Pathan people of Waziristan are proud people who I greatly admire. In speaking to American audiences, I often talk about my admiration for their concepts of Pashtunwali, their unwritten code of honor and conduct, and Nenawastay, hospitality.
The answer doesn't exactly address the question. Read the responses from the Central Asia Institute's (at www.ikat.org) board of directors and Mortenson's responses to the television show's other questions here.
Perhaps Mortenson will speak up further about these issues and others raised by the "60 Minutes" report.
Whether he was corrupted or became “corrupt,” in the sense of using the Pentagon for his own purposes, is still debatable. But the number of schools built, Mortenson’s management style and royalties are only indirectly connected to his disturbing link with the Pentagon. We're concerned with Washington's exaggeration, not his own.
Conversely, during a July 2010 interview with Charlie Rose now cited as evidence of fraud, Mortenson was critical of the Obama administration’s ongoing strategy. Maybe he changed his mind too deep into the game. With Viking Press reviewing his best-selling Three Cups of Tea, Mortenson has finally entered Afghanistan’s political and media battlefield, and must battle his way out against unseen forces.
[Update: See Mortenson's exclusive interview with Outsideonline.com]