Friday, February 26, 2010

Book #2: Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea, about American Greg Mortensen who parlays a failed attempt to summit K2 into a decade of building schools and infrastructure in the remote Northern Areas of Pakistan, is sweet like a cup of Pakistani tea. It's written in the fawning tone of a Sports Illustrated article that makes everyone seem great at the moment of writing, though it's certainly not without merit.

I picked up two main strands of interest in the book. The first was life in the Pakistani Karakoram, in the shadow of K2 and Nanga Parbat and all those other mountains that I learned about as a source of national pride as a kid. Roughly half of the world's 20 tallest mountains are in Pakistan, though Pakistan lags far behind places like Nepal tourism.

I caught a glimpse of the Chinese side of the Karakoram on the Karakoram Highway that links the two countries, though I think China calls it the China-Pakistan Highway. The mountains are pointy and imposing, the vistas and the altitude breathtaking, and the people rugged but friendly. It almost seems too cold, too quiet and too calm to be Pakistan, or China for that matter. Crossing the border at 15,000 feet elevation, one of the most remote points at a border that few people give consideration to, is a trip that's well worth it.

The second point of interest was the idea of education as development in rural Pakistan. David Oliver Rein, who co-authored the book with Mortensen, makes it a point to tie Mortensen's work to America's security. A more educated Pakistan will be a more developed Pakistan, and certainly a Pakistan that's more immune to finding absurd solutions to its problems in semi-literate clergy.

It might appear that security and development are not that closely linked, given that security is a short-term concern while children that are educated today likely won't pay off for 10-15 years. However, religious extremists managed to poison Pakistan with their long-term view, educating children 10 and 20 years ago with the aim of turning them into useful idiots later on. That strategy is paying large dividends now. A long-term strategy of education linked to development and security, painful as it might be, is needed to fully erase the mistakes of the past.

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