Not a Complete Fraud

by Joshua Foust on 5/16/2011 · 1 comment

RFE/RL tracked down some of the schools Greg Mortenson built in Pakistan:

Mortensen has rejected the allegations of fraud, but the scandal has raised doubts over how many of Mortenson’s schools actually exist. The schools stretch across northern Pakistan and northeastern Afghanistan, and many are located in difficult to reach places, so it is hard for journalists to confirm the truth.

Pakistan’s Ishkoman Valley, which we visited, is such a place. To reach it, one must travel 24 hours by car from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, and up ever-ascending terrain to the northwestern corner of Gilgit-Baltistan, which itself is part of that vast mountainous region dubbed the Roof of the World, Trans-Himalaya…

We ask, instead, if there is any school built by the Central Asia Institute. This time the answer, along with an unprompted endorsement of the CAI’s work, comes pouring out.

“I’ve known about CAI for the past two years, and they set up schools in different areas and run these schools in a good manner,” Shaukat Ali offers. “They recruit good teachers and they are doing a good job in the interest of this region.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that CAI built actual schools that work. After all, the allegations against Mortenson weren’t that he built no schools, but rather that he exaggerated how many he built (and, more importantly, that he fabricated his life story and mismanaged CAI’s finances).

It also shouldn’t surprise anyone that the schools CAI runs have a positive effect on the communities where they’re built. Now, RFE/RL is profiling only two schools here, and that makes me wonder what we’re not hearing about. As they note, quite rightly, one of the challenges in figuring out what is actually going on with these schools (both real and phantom) is that it’s so difficult to actually get to them.

So it makes sense the story behind Greg Mortenson is neither universally bad nor good. Like most things, it is complex, contradictory, and sometimes confusing. So much for the easy narrative.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

Sanjuana Gabriela Enriquez Galvan May 16, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Yes – Even Krakauer said that Mortenson is “no Madoff” and that he did do some good things in the region.

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