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How the US Can Build Bonds in Afghanistan and Pakistan

How the US Can Build Bonds in Afghanistan and Pakistan
What can the U.S. military learn from the co-author of "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time"? We speak to Greg Mortenson about the work he is doing with the military to build stronger relationships with community leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Greg Mortenson will speak on the USS Midway tonight, July 1, 2009, at 7 p.m.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Building relationships and finding common ground are not often the first attributes that come to mind when you're discussing the U.S. military. Soldiers, sailors, and Marines are deployed to fight a battle and win a war. But the extended deployments and changing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are making military leaders rethink what it takes to win a war, and they're getting advice from a man who has famously learned how to build bridges between cultures. Greg Mortensen is the co-author of "Three Cups of Tea," the bestseller which outlined his cross-cultural journey of discovery and his humanitarian work in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is now a sought-after speaker at U.S. military colleges and bases. Greg Mortenson is in town to speak tonight at the U.S.S. Midway Museum here in San Diego. It's a pleasure to welcome Greg to These Days.

GREG MORTENSON (Executive director and co-founder of the Central Asia Institute, an organization that builds schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And co-author of the book "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time."): Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And I'd like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. You know, "Three Cups of Tea" was a One Book, One San Diego selection last year so many of you must've read Greg's book. He's our guest for the rest of the hour. You're invited to call us with a question or a comment. The number is 1-888-895-5727, that's 1-888-895-KPBS. Now we first spoke with you on this program in February of last year, so welcome back to These Days.


CAVANAUGH: As I said, you're in town to speak on the U.S.S. Midway this evening. What are you doing with the military right now?

MORTENSON: Well, what I've seen in the military is a tremendous learning curve in the last two or three years. In my book, "Three Cups of Tea," which ends about five years ago, I was actually a little bit critic – I'm a U.S. military veteran. I served in the army as a medic but I was a little bit critical of the military after 9/11. I called them – I was in the Pentagon a few times. I called them laptop warriors, and I said there's no boots on the ground. But what I've seen in the last two or three years is that there's been a tremendous learning curve. The military – that we have very visionary leaders. They really get it that the priorities are empowering the elders. Number two, to build relationships, and number three, basically to help the people determine their own outcome. General Petraeus, who's CENTCOM Commander, he read "Three Cups of Tea" last year and he sent me an e-mail and he said that he had learned three things from this book. Number one, that we need to listen more. Number two, that we have to have respect, meaning we are there to serve the good people of Afghanistan. And number three, to build relationships. And so that's what I've seen. Many of our commanders have been in Iraq or Afghanistan three or four times or twice, and they really get it. I was invited to San Diego by Vice Admiral Tom Kilcline, who's the naval Air Forces commander, along with his deputy and also the – Admiral Garry Bonelli and Admiral Winters, who are the Navy SEALs commanders. In the military, there's a huge, I won't say yearning, but a interest in not only, you know, what's called kinetic warfare, which is direct warfare, but also the – what might be called the soft side, but it's really building relationships, listening to people, empowering people. And if you go to Afghanistan, on the ground, you'll see that there's been a lot of really good things happening. The number of children in school in Afghanistan has gone from 800,000 in 2000, which was the height of the Taliban, nine years ago; today there are 8.7 million children in school, including 2.6 million females, the greatest increase in school enrollment at any time in modern history. And so I'm doing this all on my own. I'm – I go to, say, corporate things to get – to raise money but the military do it all voluntarily, they don't get any – I don't want any honorarium or anything but I feel that it's my way of volunteering to my country to help them understand and development cultural awareness.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Greg, take us back if you would. I know so many people are familiar with this bestseller "Three Cups of Tea," but tell us how you began building schools in Pakistan.

MORTENSON: Well, very briefly, I was – I grew up in Africa for fifteen years. My father started a hospital on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and one thing my – I learned from my father was he always insisted on having local people in charge. And that didn't go over very well with the Europeans and Americans but he always insisted on that. And that, I think, why is the hospital even today, 40 years later, is doing – running very well. I went to K2 in Pakistan, the world's second highest mountain to honor – or, in memory of my sister Christa who died from severe epilepsy in '92 and I went there in '93. I spent 78 days on the mountain, didn't quite get to the top. So coming off the mountain, I was very sad and, like I say, disappointed that I basically – the first word in the first chapter of my book is called 'failure' but I felt as if I had failed. So coming off the mountain, I stumbled into a little village. I was very weak and emaciated, and the local people there helped nurse me back to health. So as a way to honor what they had done, I – when some kids asked me for help to build a school, I made a promise that day that I'd help them build a school. And having grown up in Africa, you know, I've seen a lot of poverty but when I saw their fierce tenacity and desire to have a school, I really thought this would be a way to honor – a better way to honor my sister Christa.

CAVANAUGH: And, if I may, what does the term 'three cups of tea,' where does the title come from?

MORTENSON: Well, Maureen, it means – An old village chief, Haji Ali in a village called Korphe, where we built our first school, he told me if you really want to work here—this is after three years, from '93 to '96, I was very – trying, basically, micromanaging, trying to get this school built.


MORTENSON: And one day he pulled me aside and he said, if you really want to get this school built, you need to sit down and be quiet. You need to have three cups of tea. And he said, the first cup, you're a stranger. Second cup, a friend. And third cup, you've become family. For our family, we're prepared to do anything, even die. So here in the U.S. we have six second sound bites but not on radio.

CAVANAUGH: Not on Public Radio.

MORTENSON: No. We have two-minute football drills and thirty-minute power lunches. But over there, it takes three cups of tea. When – There was a Berlin Strategic Military Conference in February. Every year, the military leaders, in NATO, U.S. meet in Berlin and, again, this General Petraeus but they asked him, a very serious NPR correspondent, you know, what should be our top priority in Afghanistan and he basically said—it's on NPR but he said, we need to get – drink more tea and get to know the locals. And the correspondent was a little bit befuddled and, you know, kind of taken aback and he said, no, that's – seriously, we really have to build relationships. And that is now in the new policy under General McChrystal, who's the commander in Afghanistan, is they're doing now three-year deployments, not meaning you're over there. But when you even come back to the States, you're still – your mind and your focus is going to be on that post. And then when you go redeploy, you're going to go back to that post. And it's the same thing with us. We've been doing this for 16 years. If you look at a map of where our schools are, they're in areas of religious extremism where the Taliban are, physical isolation, but we – the only way we can get in those areas is by building relationships with the elders.

CAVANAUGH: Let me remind our listeners we are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727, and my guest is Greg Mortenson. He is the co-author of "Three Cups of Tea," the bestseller. And I want to go now to the phones, and Don is in San Diego. Good morning, Don, and welcome to These Days.

DON (Caller, San Diego): Well, thank you for taking my call.


DON: I'm actually a photojournalist working on the worldwide orphan epidemic and I'm actually leaving for Pakistan on the 22nd of July and going on to Afghanistan then to India. And having read "Three Cups of Tea," and having been a fellow climber myself, I just – I think the book is a fantastic almost manual on how to interact with cultures that are diametrically opposed at times and still can find common ground in the realization that the future is really in our children and they're our ultimate resource. And I think – Greg, I really applaud your work and I hope more people read the book and can take it to heart.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that, Don. And so do you hear a lot of that, Greg?

MORTENSON: Yes, well, thank you, Don. And really what it is, too, is about, you know, politics will never bring peace but people bring peace. So people like Don who are going over and – I also – It takes time to do things so we can't just snap our fing – you know, we want immediate change and what I really see that brings change is kind of the long term thinking about children, as he mentioned. I think education should be the one – if not 'the' but one of the top global priorities. Today, there are 110 million children in the world who are deprived of education, including 78 million females, and our real focus, our main focus, is on girls' education. Educating girls does three things. It reduces infant mortality, reduces the population explosion, and number three, improves the quality of health and life itself. But also when girls learn how to read and write, they teach their mothers how to read and write. They also can write letters to their mothers, to the families, because when women are married their maternal ties are severed. And you'll see kids coming home from the marketplace with vegetables or meat wrapped in newspaper and then the mother very carefully unfolds the newspaper so they can read the news and understand what's going around them (sic). And also, when mothers have a profound influence on, well, the young men. You know, I go back to this African proverb that I learned as a child. It says, if you educate a boy, we educate an individual but if we educate a girl, we educate a community. And I really think that, I really believe that, that it's girls who really should be – have that opportunity and privilege to have an education.

CAVANAUGH: We have a caller on the line who has a question about that. Marlene is in Clairemont. And good morning, Marlene, welcome to These Days.

MARLENE (Caller, Clairemont): Oh, thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to say I absolutely love "Three Cups of Tea," and I made sure that all my friends were aware they'd need to read the book. But my question really is about I've been hearing that the Taliban was destroying girls' schools and I wanted to find out if those – any of those schools were schools that you had sponsored.

MORTENSON: Well, thank you, Marlene. We've only had one school attacked. That was two years ago. The Taliban have attacked or destroyed or bombed in Afghanistan since 2007, so in the last two and a half years, 540 schools, and in Pakistan, 350 schools. And that number is going up. There – What's interesting though, as you mentioned, is the girls' schools. 80 to 90% of those schools are girls' schools, and I think it really shows you that the greatest fear of the Taliban or other extremist groups is not bullets and bombs but it's books and education. And what we don't hear about, though, in the media is if you go back to many of those schools several months later, a year later, you'll see those kids still trying to go to school. And that school gets written off the government books and then – so then they end up trying to, you know, voluntarily continue the school. There were 14 young women in Kandahar, Afghanistan last September who had battery acid thrown in their faces, going to school, by the Taliban. It was very horrific. Some of them were blinded. They have severe burns, very painful. But what didn't come out very much in the media is that in March they all returned to school. There was a great celebration. And those girls said the only way the Taliban are going to stop us is they're going to have to kill us. Now that's a very extreme example but – and I see that everywhere I go. There's fierce desire for education. And I think we should do everything we can to help young women and men have that opportunity to go to school.

CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Greg Mortenson. He's the man who told his story in the bestselling book "Three Cups of Tea." We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. There are a lot of people who want to talk to you, Greg, but I did want to follow up on a comment that Don made when he talked to you. He said that our cultures were diametrically opposed. Is that true? Are – Is the American culture and the culture you find in Afghanistan and Pakistan diametrically opposed? And, if so, how do you find those links, those common areas?

MORTENSON: Well, it's very good observation what Don mentioned and what you're bringing up. In some ways, we're very different. We live very technologically based. We're, you know, predominantly a Judeo Christian background where in Pakistan and Afghanistan, they're 99% Islam. But on the other hand, I find there's more commonalities than differences between two people. And I think what's most, to me, is if you ask any woman in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan, what would you really like? You know, I'd like to help you, I really want to be your servant, but what do you want? So you'd think women would say I want a good husband or I want a big house or something, but all women – most women tell me the same thing, they say, we want our girls – we want our children to go to school. We don't want our babies to die, and we want peace and security. And that's what women, you know, a large majority say. And I think we share so much. We have a desire to help our kids. We want peace, stability. We want food on the table. We want the opportunity to have freedom. And I – something – sometimes I think also we think of people as living in poverty over there but we actually – You know, poverty is not just economical but it could be cultural or it could be – and some very rich things that I've seen in Afghanistan are that the very – the extended family and the beauty of learning from your elders. And I started really thinking about this. I visit about 200 schools a year in the U.S., from kindergarten through the Air Force Academy, and so I ask kids at the beginning, when I talk to them, well, how many of you have spent a lot of time talking to your grandparents about the depression or World War II or the Vietnam War or the Civil Rights movement? Generally, in the U.S. only 10% of the hands come up, doesn't matter whether it's urban or rural or public or private school. But if you ask that same question in Afghanistan or Africa or Pakistan, 90% of the hands come up. And I think that's one thing that we've really lost in this society is that respecting our elders and learning from them about our folklore or culture or our faith or heritage or whatever it is that is often second generation transmitted. I think we can learn from the people there.

CAVANAUGH: We have a caller on the line, Loua (sp) is in Encinitas. And good morning, Loua, welcome to These Days.

LOUA (Caller, Encinitas): Hi. How are you?

CAVANAUGH: Great. Thank you for calling.

LOUA: Thank you for having me. I guess my main thing, I don't know if it's a question or a comment, but I hear the way you talk about us reaching out to the children in other countries and I was raised here but I'm originally from South America. And I feel like when I talk to a lot of people my age, I'm 22, a lot of them don't really have the same global view of the world that I do and I think that in addition to all the work that you're doing that is so amazing, I think. I hear in the States it's so important for us to educate our children to realize that the world is so huge and that we can make a different, you know, and it's not just worrying about our own country but the whole world as a community so that's all.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that. Thank you for that observation.

MORTENSON: Right, I think she's right. We have – there's some very exciting things, though, going on in our schools. There's – I saw a U.S. news report that came out two years ago. It said that in 1970, one-third of college graduates today want to go out and make a difference in the world. By 1990, which is one generation later, it dropped to 18%. That was the day they want to go to Wall Street or make a buck. Today, though, it's 40% of college graduates. And if you go down into high schools and junior highs and even elementary schools, there's this yearning for – to really make the world a better place and there's been a huge increase in community service, the service learning programs. I was in – at SDSU when I was here, I've been in some high schools, kids are going out into the community. I was talking to some students from El Cajon who are doing community service, teaching younger kids how to read or, you know, picking up garbage on the beach or planting trees or, you know, lots of different things. And I do, though, think that there isn't enough role models and also that the kids need some direction. We have a program called Pennies for Peace that teaches children about philanthropy but also it teaches them about cultural awareness and also that they can make a difference in the world and – And that what she was referring to mostly is about global education. I think we've a lot – you know, a lot of schools are making cut – or, say – cutbacks in…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, sure.

MORTENSON: …you know, the states, especially here in California.

CAVANAUGH: Absolutely, yeah.

MORTENSON: Your – your governor there in Sacramento. So – But one of the things that gets cut is – first is often another language and language programs and I think that every child in this country should learn a second language. It doesn't matter whether it's Arabic or Spanish or Latin or French, but – And, also, they – we should really encourage community service in learning, even though that's very awkward at first and kids, you know, go pick up garbage or work in the dishes in the soup line but those small moments can be very pivotal in directing a child's life and also – and, again, the woman who called in from Encinitas, it's so – you're so right. It's so important that we develop more global awareness because we do live in a global community. We're not just a nation but we live in a global community and that, I think, is so important.

CAVANAUGH: I have to take a short break but when we return, we'll continue our conversation with Greg Mortenson about how he's using the lessons of "Three Cups of Tea," his bestselling book, for the U.S. military and beyond. And we're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. These Days will continue in just a few minutes.


CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. And my guest is Greg Mortenson, co-author of the bestselling book "Three Cups of Tea." He is also director and co-founder of the Central Asia Institute, an organization that builds schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And, Greg, you are also a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. That has got to be quite significant, quite an honor.

MORTENSON: It was. I – It's supposed to be a secret and I was nominated by several bipartisan members on congress and the first thing they did, being politicians, they had a press conference so I guess the word is out. But it's very humbling but at the same time I – there's so much work that needs to be done and, you know, hopefully if – maybe – that would be better off if it happened in 30 years so I can just keep my pedal to the wheel and keep on doing this.

CAVANAUGH: We are taking your phone calls for Greg Mortenson. The number here is 1-888-895-5727. And, Greg, you've explained that what you're doing is, you're giving a lot of talks and lectures to military audiences these days at the request of some of the top U.S. commanders. And because of your expertise in dealing with people in Afghanistan and Pakistan and building those cross-cultural bridges that we were talking about, I wonder, when you talk to the military leadership, what questions do they have for you?

MORTENSON: Well, we – it's related to what the military calls COIN, or Counter Insurgency, but when I first prevent an over – when I present an overview, I try to show that we actually have more things in common than in different. And previously, a lot of the military strategy after 9/11 was what I call enemy centric. Their main role, and it is still today, some of it, but to go out and capture or kill or detain or identify the terrorists or whoever, you know, Taliban, Al Qaeda. But there's been a shift now where the first goal is what I – what's called friendly centric, and that means you go over and identify the people who are the good leaders, the people who want a civil society and represent the best interest of the people, and work with them first. And then later on, you can, you know, go deal with the enemy but there's – and that's a really huge transition. Also, there's one thing that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are very deliberately doing is destroying the fabric of society which goes back 2000 years, tribal society. And they're doing it by driving a wedge between the elders and, often, the grandchildren. And they do that by taking mostly the younger men or the boys out of the villages and they get indoctrinated in a very violent type of Islam and, you know, I say the real enemy's ignorance and ignorance breeds hatred. And so if you go into an area – and it's important first to – to make – to tell the others, you are in charge and we are here to listen to you but we want to work with you. And then start rebuilding some of that relationship. I was listening to General Conway, who's the U.S. Marine Corps Commandant, speak – I say coman – commandant, I can't say it the American way.


MORTENSON: The Afghan way is commandant.

CAVANAUGH: Ah, but that works.

MORTENSON: How you say? Commandant?

CAVANAUGH: Commandant.

MORTENSON: Commandant, okay. I heard him at the Naval War College a couple weeks ago and he was outlining basically the state of the health of the Marine Corps and everything but when he got done he mentioned that the last Marines will be withdrawing from Iraq next year, except with the exception of maybe 100 or 200 trainers, but they are going to go pretty heavily into Afghanistan, which is part of Obama's new policy, 17,000 new troops there. But at the end of his speech, he said, you know, ultimately, we need to realize that in 2,000 years that any outside force who has gone into Afghanistan has been defeated, Alexander the Great, the Ottomans, the Turks, the Genghis Khan. And he said that very – you know, in a very humble type of way and I – I respect the fact. He said it's not about victory or success but it's about helping the people. And I think that shows very visionary leadership, that we're not there to – you know, victory is not really – there's no such really thing as victory but what it is is empowering the people to get back on their own feet.

CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Greg Mortenson. We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And Lindy is on the line and she's in Ocean Beach. Good morning, Lindy, welcome to These Days.

LINDY (Caller, Ocean Beach): Good morning. Thank you so much. I so appreciate KPBS for highlighting "Three Cups of Tea." I don't know that I would have read it had it not been for KPBS, and then, of course, Greg for writing it. And what it did for me, one of the things it did for me was that it made me connect to a country that obviously I don't understand, that seems so completely foreign to anything that I know. So I felt a connection and then I think it was about a year ago, year and a half ago, I'm not sure when it was, it was on a news report that some tribal leaders were together and there was a bombing and many of them were killed. And, obviously, it probably was the Taliban but I was wondering, if Greg's connection with the elders, if he's been able to continue that connection and if they survived – if they're surviving in that environment?

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that question.

MORTENSON: And she's referring to last summer. This is in Waziristan and Pakistan but some elders who were very good – you know, very good – had the interests of people in mind, and they met basically because they were so sick and tired of having outsiders come in, meaning the Taliban or Al Qaeda, that they were trying to figure out how can we get rid of these people who are disrupting our civil society? And they had a meeting and they were trying to do it in a civil way before they started what's more uncivil. You know, they went – What they ended up doing is after that incident, they then formed a lashkar, which is a tribal – it's a vigilante or posse, and they went out, you know, physically, by force removing the Taliban. And I think that's often the generals' sentiment. I think we perceive in Afghanistan and Pakistan that the Taliban and other groups have a lot of popular support…

CAVANAUGH: Yes, we do. That's – We often hear that.

MORTENSON: But having been there and talking, you know, in tribal areas, people are getting so sick and tired. Afghanistan has had thirty – over thirty years of war in Pakistan. Taliban and lashkar-e-Taieba, Jamaal Islamiya, these groups, they've been around more than a decade and they really haven't brought anything, they haven't brought improvements in education or healthcare. And, you know, here in this country we have a lot of problems, too, but at some point people start to turn on them and I think what really galvanized the people was in Pakistan, is in Swat Valley, there was – the Taliban had taken over and the government actually allowed them to impose what's called Shariat Law, this is Islamic law. But the Taliban were doing it a much more extreme level and most of those Taliban, they're illiterate, they also – they're basically thugsters or gangsters, they're going around flogging women for, you know, having their dress above their ankles or walking in the bazaar without their husband or brother or father. And the Taliban also, in Swat, Maulana Fazlullah, who's the radio – he's called the Radio Mullah, and that's how they kind of – there's – you know, not newspapers or TVs but radio is the masses' medium.

CAVANAUGH: I understand.

MORTENSON: It's very powerful. And so they use that to very – say, violent (sic) broadcasting and they were even telling who they're going to kill tomorrow and things like that so people are very, you know, living in fear. But the Maulana Fazlullah, the Radio Mullah in Swat, this is about two months ago, he said that women cannot leave the house, that women can't own land. He mentioned that the women can't go to school, a bunch of other things. And so even the extremist leaders, who are the MMA group, which is in the tribal areas, they denounced what the Taliban had said. They said this is not about Islam, you know, and you've really taken this too far. And so – and even when it's more a crisis now, I think we need to acknowledge, we need to support the vast, say, moderate majority who really are peace loving people and they need their voice heard in the western media.

CAVANAUGH: I want to see if I can get in a few quick calls before we run out of time. And Mike is in La Jolla. Good morning, Mike, and welcome to These Days.

MIKE (Caller, La Jolla): Good morning, Greg. Thank you for writing such a great book. The most inspirational thing I've ever read. Coming on the heels of what you've just said, what I took away from the book was the emphasis we need to do to break down this extremism is to bring equality to women because they pass the good things to the boys, the young boys, and they break the cycle of the illiteracy. And, again, thank you. That's my comment. A question I have, have you had any relationships or any involvement with the Engineers Without Borders?

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for those comments and questions, Mike. Engineers Without Borders, do you know of them?

MORTENSON: Oh, yes, it's a fantastic group and on campuses, it's really growing. Engineers Without Borders is like Doctors Without Borders…


MORTENSON: …but it's engineers, mostly on campuses. They've done phenomenal work. There are even some groups that are working in Pakistan with water wells, designing more ecologically sound buildings or earthquake areas, and it's a great organization. And I, you know, I wish we could have more Engineers Without Borders around to make the world a better place.

CAVANAUGH: Let's take another call. Dan in El Cajon. Good morning, Dan. Welcome to These Days.

DAN (Caller, El Cajon): Thank you. Hello, Greg.

MORTENSON: Morning, sir.

DAN: I want to also voice my appreciation for your book. It was very inspiring and it caused me to read another book by Sarah Chayes, called "The Punishment of Virtue." And I'm wondering, are you familiar with that book and with her? And have you had any contact with her? And what's going on with her and her ability to influence policy in the Obama administration, I guess. So it's kind of a broad question.


MORTENSON: Yes, sir. Sarah Chayes is a previous NPR correspondent. She's been working in Afghanistan I think about a decade now. She wrote a book called "The Virtue of…

CAVANAUGH: We have "The Pursuit of Virtue." I think Dan said "Punishment of Virtue."

MORTENSON: "The Punishment of Virtue," and she's doing great work. She set up a radio station which – to counter the extremist radio stations, working with micro kind of businesses and dairy farms and I've spoken to her a few times and she's working a very difficult area. And, you know, I applaud what she's doing, and I think she has – being that she's a NPR correspondent, she does have some, say, leveraging on the Obama administration. And I think, you know, the one thing to say, my message to the Obama administration is that I think the military right now is ahead of the State Department and our political leaders in that I was glad Secretary Gates still remains in there but it's because they've been working on these relationships for eight, ten, you know, ten years. When Hillary Clinton first went on her global tour, she didn't even stop in Pakistan or Afghanistan for a cup of tea. Now, it would have been very symbolic had she just gone for an hour and had one cup of tea. I know it sounds a little bit silly but if you compare that to the military, Admiral Mike Mullen, our Chairman Joint Chief of Staff, General Petraeus, Admiral Eric Olsen, who's our Special Forces commander, they've been in Afghanistan and Pakistan more than 30 times in the last year. And I think Secretary Holbruk is starting to pick that up, too, that – you know, and it's very awkward at first but we have to start sitting down, listening to each other and learning and listening together, otherwise we're – you know, we're all in this for vain.

CAVANAUGH: And I wonder if you can tell us very quickly, when are you planning to go back?

MORTENSON: July eighth, so…


MORTENSON: …one more week.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, one more week.

MORTENSON: Yeah. First I got to go home and be with the kids for 4th of July and then I'll head overseas for a few weeks.

CAVANAUGH: And what will you be doing when you go back to Afghanistan?

MORTENSON: Well, drinking lots of tea and we're also – we've been getting so many requests now from very rural areas. The tribal elders came from Oruzgan Provence to one of our schools two months ago. This is the home of Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban. Tribal leaders there are asking for girls' schools in there…


MORTENSON: …and so we had people from Tora Bora. We've been putting a girls' school at – we have six girls' schools now in Kunar Provence, which is a very volatile area on the Pakistan-Afghan border. And fierce desire, and it is risky. I mean, the Taliban are going to keep destroying some schools but, overall, the enrollment is skyrocketing. And also women who are filing titles and claims and deeds for land ownership is increasing so…


MORTENSON: …those are important things.

CAVANAUGH: I want to tell everyone, Greg, that you will be speaking on the U.S.S. Midway tonight at 7:00 p.m. Go to for more information. And for more information about your particular website which is called…

MORTENSON:, just spell it out.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Greg Mortenson, so much for being here.

MORTENSON: Thank you, Maureen. Thank you, KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: And thank you for listening. Stay with us for the second hour of These Days, coming up in just a couple of minutes.