JACKI LYDEN, host:
That water between Afghanistan and Pakistan is very familiar to Greg Mortenson. He just spent five weeks traveling through both countries. Greg Mortenson is a former mountaineer and soldier who stumbled into Pakistan in 1993 after summiting K2. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Mortenson spent days on the mountain K2 but did not reach its peak.]
Since then, through his nonprofit Central Asia Institute, he's built 78 schools in the area. and he co-wrote a bestselling book about that time called "Three Cups of Tea." He's consulted with everyone from anti-war groups to heads of state to top American generals. A couple of weeks ago, he had brunch with Pervez Musharraf just days before Pakistan's president stepped down.
Greg Mortenson has had a long history with Musharraf.
Mr. GREG MORTENSON (Author, "Three Cups of Tea"; Executive Director, Central Asia Institute): In 1999, after President Musharraf took power in the military coup, the army contacted us to start building schools along the line of control, which is a Pakistan-India war zone. That started a long-term relationship with our organization of getting support by also the Pakistan military to set up schools.
And President Musharraf a week ago invited me for - he said he wanted a cup of tea and I spent about three and a half hours just talking with him about his legacy. At the time he seemed fairly resigned to the fact that - he didn't mention that he was going to resign but he...
LYDEN: But you guessed.
Mr. MORTENSON: ...he was kind of reminiscing about his history and also the many positive things that he had done for his country.
LYDEN: Whatever one thinks of Pervez Musharraf's actions within the last year, he was a reliable American ally for a very long time. The U.S. gave him billions of dollars to fight terrorism. Do you think it worked?
Mr. MORTENSON: President Musharraf did significant things after he came into power in '99. He, first of all, he sent out audit teams to every single village and hamlet in Pakistan to discern the education, animal husbandry, health care and all the different types of social services. And for that the people were happy.
And in 2004, Pakistan also received a billion dollars from the U.S. with the condition of two terms. One is to have elections and number two to send 70,000 troops in the tribal areas of Western Pakistan to flush them right out, al-Qaida and the Taliban.
And what happened in the 2004 elections was that the MMA, the extremist coalition, got about 18 percent of the vote. And so by forcing an election, we galvanized the extremist coalition and Musharraf lost a significant amount of his power, and he had to form a coalition with this nemesis parties - the People's Party and the Muslim League.
What's interesting though, Jacki, is that now the MMA has lost credibility with the people and the populist…
LYDEN: The extremists.
Mr. MORTENSON: …the people have turned against them because they haven't provided basic social services - education, health care - to the people in the rural areas.
LYDEN: Speaking of what people in these tribal and rural areas want - the areas in which you have so much expertise - what do they want. You ask that at the highest levels. You'll be meeting next month with Army General David Petraeus. You'll be addressing the British House of Commons in October. You've experienced this violence firsthand. You were kidnapped yourself by the Taliban, threatened with death in a couple of fatwas.
And you're trying to put schools in these areas that are this hostile and this volatile? How do you do that?
Mr. MORTENSON: We build relationships over many, many years with tribal chiefs, with the mullahs, with the imams, with the tribal leaders. And I find pretty much as a whole people really want education. Recently, early 2007, I started getting correspondence from U.S. military commanders in the field in Afghanistan who had read "Three Cups of Tea."
And I find that I think our military leaders have actually come a very long ways in some terms ahead of the State Department and the White House in that many of those commanders have been in Afghanistan or Iraq three or four times and they really understand that it's imperative that with any type of strategy first and foremost is building relationships with the people.
LYDEN: Greg, this has been a week in which editorials have been sounding the alarm about Afghanistan and the news of these deaths and military operations have hit the front pages. Does this make you feel disappointed? Does this make you feel apprehensive or do you see any sense of hope here?
Mr. MORTENSON: Well, it's disappointing but it's also inspiring. In 2003 when the Iraq War started, there was a mass exit of U.S. interest, the media, the military, the aid to Iraq. And I think we also should appreciate the fact that it was the mujahideen or the Afghan Freedom Fighters who eventually brought down the Soviet Union during the Cold War, which was our objective, you know, in the 80s under President Reagan.
And they feel that they have been abandoned. And so in some ways I think it's good that there's been another arrow pointing back at Afghanistan and also in Pakistan.
LYDEN: Greg Mortenson is the co-author of the book "Three Cups of Tea" and he's executive director of the Central Asia Institute. Greg, thanks very much for your being with us and thanks for your work.
Mr. MORTENSON: Thanks, Jacki.
LYDEN: You can see a picture of Greg Mortenson during his visit with Pervez Musharraf and hear an earlier interview I did with him for the Kentucky Author Forum on our Web site, npr.org.