Innocent until proven guilty is supposed to be the way the world perceives anyone caught in a possible misdemeanour, but Greg Mortenson, the famous American author and school builder for the poor, was publicly hung, drawn and quartered in a recently aired 60-minute American investigative television programme that accused him of lying about the number of schools his charitable organisation has built in northern Pakistan and across the border in Afghanistan. Mortenson shot to fame after his book, Three Cups of Tea, co-authored by David Oliver Relin, and which tells the story of his school building work, came into print in 2006 and was snapped up by eager readers all around the world but, or so it is now claimed, much of the account is invented and the actual number of schools built under his charitable umbrella are far less than was previously considered to be the case. Naturally Mortenson, who founded the Central Asian Institute to co-ordinate and administer his school network, denies the allegations but, guilty or not, his goose has been well and truly cooked as the donations on which his work depends are quite liable to fade away to zilch if they have not done so already. Viking Penguin, the original publishers of the book, it was taken up and reprinted by Penguin paperbacks the following year, have launched their own investigation into the veracity of the books often highly coloured contents and adoring readers and fans have been left feeling completely betrayed. Mortenson, it goes without saying, will never be accepted as being squeaky clean again even if the accusations are eventually proven incorrect. Having suffered such a shockingly painful slap in the face the public, unforgiving as it generally is, is highly unlikely to turn the other cheek which is when the true cost of Mortensons fall from grace will begin to impact on the world of international charities and their potential donors. The very term 'NGO, which is what Mortensons Central Asian Institute purports to be, is already viewed with suspicion by many people here in Pakistan where dubious NGOs, some of them downright fake, have done far more harm than good over the years since they came into existence. It was, not all that many years ago, quite the in-thing to set up an NGO with whatever kind of remit, harvest funds from foreign donors and anyone else, who could conceivably be tapped for cash and then race around the country in massive four wheel drive vehicles having a whale of a time and achieving absolutely nothing in the process. People dreamt of establishing NGOs to milk and many of them made their dreams come true before regulations were tightened up and laws imposed to curtail what had become nothing more than lucrative ventures. In the eyes of foreign donors, however, legitimate NGOs struggling to achieve laudably important goals were tarred with the same brush, as their fly-by-night counterparts and, as a direct result, financial assistance became extremely difficult to acquire, even for the most transparent projects imaginable. In a country wearing a global tag of governmental and private corruption, essential NGOs, those offering medical assistance in the wake of the 2005 earthquake and then in the wake of last years horrendous floods for example, limp along trying to provide services on very little, in some cases absolutely no money at all and, thanks to the negative publicity generated by the Mortenson affair, locating funds will be even more akin to searching for the mystical grail than it already is. The fact that Mortenson happens to be an American citizen has no global bearing on the case - the fact that the majority of his schools, invisible or otherwise, happen to be located in Pakistan is, for us, where the danger lies. If his supposedly 'invisible schools had been located in South America or Mozambique, then perhaps the NGOs operating in Pakistan may have been unscathed. But they are here, which means that all potential donors to all NGOs operating here are going to think not just twice, but at least six times before daring to consider making any injections of cash and, even then, are liable to specify the continuous foreign monitoring of projects which, in turn, will drastically gobble up whatever little funding there may eventually be. Insisting on foreign monitoring will no longer, in all eyes, automatically mean that everything is clear and above board either as, again thanks to the Mortenson affair, foreigners will be justifiably open to suspicion to which places the entire NGO network under the microscope, albeit it deserved or not. The vast majority of Pakistanis have long had good reason to be suspicious of all and every American working, operating or simply just visiting our country. Yet, Mortenson was, reportedly, perceived as being an exception, some kind of 'local hero, an honest man who honestly cared about our children and their education and this betrayal, if that is what it is, will severely retard any possible acceptance of any other well intentioned foreigner, who is brave enough to come along. Guilty or not the damage has been done. The writer is a Murree-based freelance columnist.