Last month, Greg Mortenson was awarded Pakistan’s highest civilian award, the Sitara-e-Pakistan. An American who has built 78 schools along the tribal belt that separates Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mortenson has garnered international enthusiasm for his work through his memoir Three Cups of Tea.
The book takes its name from the Pakistani saying, “The first time you share tea…you are a stranger…the second time you take tea you are an honored guest [and] the third time you share a cup of tea, you become family.” Though it sometimes wanes into a too-familiar tone of American, rugged-individual heroism, Mortenson’s story is a powerful testimony to the importance of building relationships (in this case, to the end of building schools).
Another American has recently written a different kind of book about schools in Pakistan: Peacemaker Azhar Hussain and the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy have just released Madrasa Enhancement and Global Security: A Model for Faith-Based Engagement. Like Mortenson, Azi works directly with local leaders “promoting peace… one school at a time.” But the former primarily builds new schools and trains new teachers, whereas Azi focuses on enhancing the current curricula and teaching capacity of the madrasa system.
Both moving towards the goal of better education in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Azi and Mortenson have been long treading a path that our government is seemingly just discovering. Also last month, the Obama Administration and Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke – who is by the way honorary chair of Tanenbaum’s Religion and Conflict Resolution Advisory Council – outlined America’s strategic approach to the conflict in “Af-Pak.”
Af-Pak’s success, according to the new guard, does not rely on U.S. military aid alone, but rather also depends on “Track II Diplomacy.” Education activists like Azi and Mortenson are influencing and empowering the very citizens that the Administration hopes to engage. We are excited and anxious to see how citizen diplomacy is incorporated into U.S. policy. It is a worthy “track,” one that Tanenbaum Peacemakers – as local religious and humanitarian leaders – have been walking for decades.