Gilgit-Baltistan:Peace Through Education Stressed by Mortenson

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GILGIT (ET): Embattled author and co-founder of the nonprofit Central Asian Institute (CAI) Greg Mortenson visited Skardu, Gilgit-Baltistan on Sunday – his first trip since a controversy surrounding his book, ‘Three Cups of Tea’, broke last year.

The best-selling memoir recounted how Mortenson was inspired by a group of local children to build a chain of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Back home, a lawsuit was filed against Mortenson last year after a US TV show ‘60 Minutes’ and investigative reporter Jon Krakauer challenged his work, saying he had fabricated and exaggerated parts of his books to boost sales. The lawsuit was, however, dismissed.

The author also recently made a $1 million deal to settle allegations that he misused donations for his own benefit. CAI Communications Director Karin Ronnow, who is accompanying Mortenson on the G-B trip, told The Express Tribune that the Skardu people extended a warm welcome to Mortenson, who had first visited the place in 1993 to climb K2.

In 2009, the Pakistan government had honoured Mortenson Sitara-e-Pakistan award in recognition of his 15-year-long humanitarian efforts. Several US Congressional representatives had nominated Mortenson twice for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 and 2010.

Noting rampant poverty and lack of education among women, Mortenson built his first school in Korpe village in 1996, she added. “Since then, the CAI has established over 40 schools in Baltistan and a total of 110 schools in Gilgit, Hunza, Azad Kashmir, and Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa,” she added. One of his most trusted men in G-B, GM Parvi also parted ways with him saying that ‘Three Cups of Tea’ was contemptuous against Islam and Baltistan’s culture. Ronnow, however, said that Parvi caused many complications for the organisation.

Ronnow added that Mortenson started charity work in the area, devoid of government attention in sectors like education, 20 years ago.

During his trip, Mortenson took strong exception to the US drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal regions.

“I am especially disheartened to see that the US foreign policy in Pakistan is driven by predator drone strikes and humanitarian sanctions,” Mortenson told a ceremony in Skardu on Sunday.

He also said that he was dismayed to see US-Pakistan relations at an all-time low.

“The US policy is based on a fight over access to strategic routes to supply military operations in Afghanistan.” He added that dropping bombs, deploying troops, and building roads will not serve the purpose of bringing about a change in society until and unless people, especially girls, are educated. During the ceremony, the author donated books worth Rs278,000 to the Skardu Municipal Library.

He also committed to cover the cost of Internet service for the library for a year, and purchased two laptops for the librarians.

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