Greg Mortenson poses with schoolchildren in northeastern Afghanistan. The author has been accused of fabricating his autobiography. Photograph: Ho New/Reuters
Greg Mortenson, the author and philanthropist accused of fabricating large parts of his autobiographical writings, is to be sued by the Pakistani tribesmen he claimed kidnapped him.
In his bestselling books about building schools in Pakistan andAfghanistan, one of the most startling stories tells how he was kidnapped by the Taliban and held hostage in Waziristan, the most dangerous part of Pakistan’s western tribal border area with Afghanistan. A photograph in one book showed him with a dozen tribesmen, some armed, who were supposedly holding him captive.
However, as with much else in the books, Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools, the tale is unravelling, following a US television exposé earlier this week.
Mansur Khan Mahsud, 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. Mahsud, who is the research director of a thinktank in Islamabad that specialises in the tribal area, said that the Taliban did not appear on the Pakistani side of the border until 2002, following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
“Greg Mortenson came with a relative of mine and he was a guest of the village. He stayed for about 10 days. He was living in the village, sightseeing, taking photographs. He had a really good time,” said Mahsud, adding that some of the tribesmen carried guns to protect Mortenson.
In Mortenson’s account, his hosts from the Mahsud tribe have been turned into the then better-known Wazir tribe, while the location has morphed to Razmak, North Waziristan.
“It’s lies from A to Z. There’s not one word of truth. If there had been a little exaggeration, that could have been forgiven,” said Mahsud. “The way that he’s portrayed the Mahsuds, as hash-smoking bandits, is wrong. He’s defamed me, my family, my tribe. We are respected people in my area. He’s turned us into kidnappers.”
Mahsud 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 Mahsud, who only found out about the story in the book when he was contacted in February this year by a whistle-blower, Jon Krakauer, who was featured in the US investigative show 60 Minutes on CBS News.
The programme raised serious doubts over how many schools Mortenson had actually built in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and even his original story that he vowed to build his first school, for a Pakistani village, after its inhabitants rescued him when he got lost mountaineering. It also questioned the use of the millions in charitable funds he collects each year for the schools.
Mortenson, whose charity is now under investigation by US authorities, has defended his work, admitting to only “some omissions and compressions”.