After a career in corporate innovation for major companies, B.P. Agrawal put his technical and business prowess to work to transform such ideas into practical solutions that have helped tens of thousands of people in his homeland.
That's why the Massachusetts Institute of Technology today awarded Agrawal the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability. The prize honors inventors whose work helps poor communities meet basic health needs and earn a sustainable livelihood.
Agrawal won the award for two such breakthroughs: his rainfall-harvesting project, and another innovative system of mobile health kiosks that allow nurses to serve poor communities that don't have doctors, using electronic protocols to treat common ailments.
More information is available on the website of the organization Agrawal founded in 2007, called Sustainable Innovations.
Here are excepts from MIT's description of the innovations:
Agrawal transitioned from the corporate world to the non-profit world in 2003; in 2006, his rainwater harvesting system, Aakash Ganga, or River from Sky, won a World Bank Development Marketplace Award for an innovative approach to development challenges surrounding clean water in India. Aakash Ganga collects water from rooftops which is channeled through pipes and stored in a network of underground reservoirs, providing enough water for an entire village for a year. To date, it has helped 10,000 villagers in drought-prone regions gain access to clean water. Aakash Ganga is now being considered for large-scale implementation by the government of India. These accomplishments led Agrawal to found Sustainable Innovations (SI) in 2007. SI is a non-profit dedicated to building self-sustainable enterprises, with a focus on engaging young entrepreneurs in culturally and economically viable ventures.
Another award-winning development is Agrawal’s kiosk-based health “clinics,” Arogya Ghar, or Clinics for Mass Care, created with entrepreneur Atul Jain, founder and CEO of TEOCO, which won a second World Bank Development Marketplace Award in 2007. The clinics, run by high school educated young women, are inexpensive and have the ability to alleviate the shortage of trained medical staff and improve standardized treatment protocols for common ailments and preventable diseases in India. Agrawal’s team is currently seeking collaboration with USAID, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and social investors to scale up to 50 villages by 2012.
In Kabul, graduates received their master's degrees today through a new program created with the support of education specialists from UMass Amhert. Photo courtesy of Professor David R. Evans.
In war-torn Afghanistan, university master's degrees are so rare that graduation caps, gowns, and diploma covers are hard to come by.
But with help from educators from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a ceremony in Kabul today celebrated 41 students who earned their master's in education, nearly doubling the number of master's-level faculty at education colleges in the country.
Professor David R. Evans, who leads the UMass team that designed the post-graduate Afghan program, said staffers from UMass staffers helped fashion the graduation garb and diplomas.
"Certainly for the last 20 years there's been nothing like this," Evans said by telephone from the Afghan capital.
Twenty-two of the graduates recently completed the new two-year program at Kabul Education University -- the first master's degrees in education within the country at least since the Taliban takeover in the 1990s. The other 19 completed their degree work recently at UMass Amherst and Indiana University, and joined their counterparts from Kabul university for the event.
The Kabul master's program is one element in a wide-ranging Afghan initiative by education specialists from UMass Amherst, who have been bolstering teacher education in the country since 2003.
Evans, who has spent more than 40 years at the Center for International Education at UMass Amherst, said 10 of the 22 graduates from the first class of the Kabul Education University are women, and the graduates range in age from their 20s to over 40. They completed their coursework in Dari, an Afghan language, in December, and all are currently teaching at 16 schools of education around the country, along with the recent graduates from the US universities.
In this way, the American-backed master's in education program will help seed schools of education around the country with trained faculty who in turn will share their expertise with hundreds if not thousands of teachers. Education has always been seen as a pillar of rebuilding Afghanistan, and Taliban rebels have frequently targeted teachers and schools, especially those for girls.
The UMass team has worked with colleagues from Indiana University over the past five years to design and implement the master's program at the country's flagship school of education, thanks to a five-year, $7.4 million grant from the US Agency for International Development/ to develop teacher-training staff and institutions. The Kabul master's program employs three Americans and six Afghans, including Wahid Omar, an Afghan-American, who has coordinated the master's degree program.
Evans and his UMass colleagues, including Associate Professor Joseph Berger, who is chairman of the department of education policy, research and administration, have also been involved in several other education initiatives in Afghanistan, including a new project to improve medical education.
The event drew much attention in Kabul, Evans said. The US ambassador and the Afghan minister for higher education attended.
Evans said he and Berger have traveled to Afghanistan about a dozen times since 2003. He said the five-year contract with USAID ends in January 2011, but he hopes to continue to contribute to improving teacher education in Afghanistan in the future.
The initiative reaches beyond Kabul, with professional development centers running in eight other cities including Kandahar, Herat, and Kunduz. Hundreds of faculty have taken courses in subjects including pedagogy training, leadership in education, and computer literacy.
In an address titled "the War in Afghanistan: How to End It," Miliband said the Afghan government should not only try to win over low-level rebel fighters but should also try to engage insurgent leaders and other political foes who are willing to enter into a dialogue, even if that means making concessions to rivals.
"The idea of political engagement with those who would directly or indirectly attack our troops is difficult," Miliband said in a prepared text. "But dialogue is not appeasement and political space is not the same as veto power or domination."
Along with engaging domestic political foes and insurgent leaders, Afghanistan should reach out to neighboring countries, including Pakistan, India and Iran, and work for "a new external political settlement," Miliband said.
"There needs to be a greater effort to reach out not just to disaffected Afghans, but the country's neighbors and near neighbors," he said.
Miliband's appeal for negotiations and a comprehensive settlement seemed designed to step up the pressure on President Hamid Karzai to act more forcefully to exploit the political opportunity that has been forged at great cost by the US troop surge and the month-old US-British military offensive in the south.
At the same time, Miliband may be offering the Obama Administration political room to embrace negotiations with the Taliban. The United States has been willing to encourage reintegration of low-level fighters who are willing to turn in their weapons, but has stopped short of embracing negotiations with the Taliban leadership until it can be done from a position of strength.
Miliband, who spent time at Bigelow Junior High School in Newton in the late 1970s and earned a master's degree in political science from MIT in 1990, laid out his Afghanistan policy vision in the annual Compton Lecture at Kresge Auditorium on the MIT campus.
He said a flurry of developments had created a window of opportunity for Karzai to begin an aggressive political offensive, both within the country and in the region. The United States deployed an additional 30,000 troops last year, and a combined US-British operation launched last month has thrown thousands of US, British and Afghan troops against the Taliban stronghold in Helmand Province.
Across the border, the Pakistani government has shown a new willingness to challenge the Taliban's logistical base in the tribal areas of the border region, squeezing the rebels there as well.
Furthermore, Karzai can now claim a measure of political legitimacy through his re-election last year, as flawed as it was by fraud allegations. Miliband noted that Karzai has called a nationwide political forum in late April that could help repair some of the political errors that excluded many political players from power after the 2001 US-led invasion overthrew the Taliban. In particular, he noted that the Pashtun who form Afghanistan's largest ethnic group were "seriously under-represented" in that post-Taliban political settlement, in the government as well as in the Afghan Army.
The system is also too highly centralized, Miliband said, failing to integrate the informal local structures of justice and power that Afghans use to run their lives.
"My case today is that a reintegration program will have major impact only if it is coupled with a serious effort to address the grievances of those whom President Karzai describes as his 'disaffected compatriots'," Miliband said. Getting insurgents to switch sides will be difficult "without a genuine effort to understand and ultimately address the wider concerns which fuel the insurgency."
Harvard Kennedy School academic Hassan Abbas spoke with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month about US policy in Pakistan following her recent visit, and Clinton offered some fresh ideas on how to counter the spread of militancy there.
Abbas is a senior adviser to the Kennedy School's Belfer Center on Science and International Affairs, and is currently a fellow at the Asia Society in New York on South Asian policy. He also is a former senior Pakistani government official who worked on policing and security in Pakistan, so he brings first-hand knowledge of the crisis in Pakistan as it confronts Muslim extremists there.
Abbas says he was invited out of the blue to interview Clinton for his blog, Watandost., "about Pakistan and its neighborhood." The interview also was carried on Foreign Policy's blog, the AfPak Channel. (The interview took place in mid-December, and sorry that I am only catching up with it now, after a holiday break).
Abbas notes that Clinton visited police stations in Islamabad, and says she was the first foreign official to acknowledge the critical role of the police in combatting extremism, and the need to upgrade the quality of policing. Abbas asks whether the United States would commit resources to supporting the police and reform of law enforcement in the country. Clinton's answer:
"Well, we would be honored to do so, because I agree with you that theAbbas also notes that Clinton visited the mausoleum of Mohammad Iqbal, the poet-philosopher who dreamed of creating Pakistan. For Abbas, that underscored the importance of recognizing that the people of Pakistan, not its government officials, will ultimately be the ones to defeat or surrender to extremism. Indeed, there have been recent bloody clashes in the Afghan border region between citizen militias taking on Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters.
police truly are on the front lines. They often have to deal with the rush of violence that comes in cities or towns and they don't have the support they need, they don't often have the equipment that they need. And as you say, I met a number of police officers, both in Lahore and in Islamabad, who are very committed, but under-resourced. And I am more than happy to consider any request from the Pakistani Government to help the police force, because I agree completely that they're the front line of defense."
For Clinton, the displays of public as well as government commitment to take on the threat was a sign of hope. She tells Abbas:
"...the terrorist threat to Pakistan is growing and it's intense and it can only be defeated by the Pakistani people coming together and rejecting it, in the first instance, trying to present a different narrative than the one that the terrorists are putting forth, using military force where they must, but mostly by developing the democratic institutions, by developing the country, clearly demonstrating that Pakistan has no room for those who want to tear down, because the Pakistan people want to build."
Lesley University Professor Louise Pascale has just come back from a two-month stay in Afghanistan where she worked in schools and orphanages on her project to preserve the country's traditional songs.
The Globe's Roy Greene interviewed Pascale, who has useful insights into the situation on the ground in Afghanistan at a time when Americans are divided over President Obama's war strategy there.
Her own story is fascinating: when she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Afghanistan in the late 1960s, she helped villagers create a songbook. After the fall of the Taliban, she dug out her old songbook and offered a reproduced and enhanced version to schools in the country. Now, 30 years after she worked there, her program has distributed 14,000 copies of the songbook, and more are on the way.
She also worked with a respected Afghan musician living in Toronto, Vaheed Kaacemy, who recorded 16 songs, in Farsi, Pushto, Uzbeki and Hazara. Eight of the songs are from the original songbook. A 60-minute recording is available as well as the reprinted songbook.
So after years without music under the Taliban's cultural crackdown, children are able to sing their traditional tunes once again.
On the 25th anniversary of the deadly chemical leak in Bhopal, India, Boston-area activists will stage a vigil on Thursday, Dec. 3rd, on behalf of the thousands of victims, and to protest what many survivors say is insufficient government and corporate action.
The Boston Coalition for Justice in Bhopal says it plans several actions starting at noon at Copley Square in Boston. Members will be fasting in solidarity with survivors in India, and will stage a "die-in." The coalition has members from MIT, Harvard, BU, Tufts and elsewhere in the region. The students demand that Dow Chemicals, which bought Union Carbide, do more for the victims and face legal action. Union Carbide settled with the Indian government five years later for $470 million, and Dow Chemical, which bought Union Carbide, says it is fulfilling all its responsibilities.
See this previous Worldly Boston post for links and more details on what happened on Dec. 3, 1984, and what has happened since.
Arun Gandhi, the grandson of India's famed leader Mohandas K. Gandhi, will speak at events in the Boston area this weekend to promote a campaign for women to lead a new non-violent world peace campaign.
Arun Gandhi, 75, was born in South Africa and was raised partly in India by his grandfather in the years leading up to Mahatma Gandhi's assassination in 1948. The grandson spent much of his career as a writer for the Times of India, and moved to the United States in 1987. He set up a peace institute, the M.K. Gandhi Non-Violence Institute, now based at the University of Rochester. He has taught and lectured widely.
He will speak at a fundraiser on Friday evening, Nov. 6, in Brookline, and at free events on Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, 138 Tremont St., Boston, and at 7 p.m. Saturday at All Saints Parish, 1773 Beacon Street, Brookline.
For details check out the website of the Global Strategy of Non-Violence, an organization created by Newton peace activist Andre Sheldon.
Arun Gandhi has long espoused non-violence in the spirit of his grandfather, and has given talks and courses in many countries. He has weathered controversy, particularly over remarks in a Washington Post blog entry about Jewish identity that were widely criticized as anti-Semitic and dismissive of the Holocaust. He apologized, but he has defended his criticism of Israel's government for denying rights to Palestinians.
He blogs regularly for the Washington Post's On Faith blog on religion.
She has been called the bravest woman in Afghanistan. She was kicked out of the country's Parliament for criticizing it. She has survived four assassination attempts. She is perhaps the most outspoken critic of the power that warlords still hold over the Afghan government. And she says Afghanistan does not need American or other foreign troops to solve her country's problems.
People in the Boston area will be able to hear Malalai Joya speak about her life and her views at several events this week coinciding with the publication of her brand new book, "A Woman Among Warlords."
Joya appears at a public forum at MIT on Thursday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m., Oct. 30, in building 10, room 250, 77 Massachusetts Avenue. She will be at the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard Kennedy School on Friday, October 30 at 2:30 p.m. And she will speak at Emerson College on Friday at 7 p.m., in the Bordy Auditorium. Finally, she will speak on Saturday, Oct. 31, at 2 p.m. in Dorchester at 91 Lyndhurst Street.
Shelagh Foreman, of Massachusetts Peace Action, notes that Joya is a former teacher "who set up secret schools for girls, an orphanage and free clinic in her impoverished home province of Farah during the Taliban era. She ran for parliament in 2005 to protect her schools and won, becoming the youngest person elected to Afghanistan's new Parliament at the age of 27. In
2007, she was suspended from Parliament for her persistent criticism of warlords and drug barons and their overwhelming presence in the Parliament."
Mass Peace Action has long opposed the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and lately has stepped up its opposition to increasing the number of US troops in Afghanistan, as President Obama is now under pressure to do. The group is part of United For Justice and Peace, the coalition of anti-war groups in the greater Boston area, which has details of Joya's events on its web site.
Joya is just beginning a nationwide tour to discuss her book. She will appear at the National Press Club in Washington on Monday, and will be in California later next week.
Few relationships are as important for the United States as that with Pakistan, and few are as strained and tense.
A conference being held on Saturday, Oct. 17, at Harvard aims to help understand and improve that relationship. The event is being organized by the Harvard Extension International Relations Club (HEIRC) in collaboration with the Harvard International Relations Council (IRC). The speakers will include some of the most prominent experts on Pakistan and US-Pakistani relations in the United States.
The event is open to the public, but registration is required. Tickets cost $20, including lunch and parking. The event, from 9:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., is being held at the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center, at the Harvard Medical School, 77 Avenue Louis Pasteur in Boston. For more details see the conference web site.
Among the speakers and panelists are Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States and previously a professor at Boston University; Congressman John F. Tierney, chairman of the National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee in the House of Representatives; Hassan Abbas, a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a former Pakistani government official.
The Bhopal survivors' fundraising event I described last week took place in Cambridge on Friday evening. The organizers report that about 185 people attended, and the event raised $2,900 for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.
Here's the original post:
The Boston Coalition for Justice in Bhopal, a group supporting the campaign for justice for victims of the chemical disaster in India 25 years ago that claimed thousands of lives, is holding a commemorative event at MIT on Friday evening.
The fundraiser is called Bhopal-Natyam: A Dance Tribute to Human Resilience," and is being held in the Little Kresge Auditorium at MIT from 6-9 p.m. Tickets are $10 to $15.
The world's worst chemical disaster occurred in December 1984 in Bhopal, India, at a Union Carbide Corp. plant. Tons of toxic methyl isocyanate gas poured from the plant when water entered a tank and caused a deadly reaction. The state government at the time reported that about 3,800 people were killed immediately and thousands more affected. Other estimates say tens of thousands died, and thousands more suffered long-term effects. The company paid a $470 million settlement in 1989, and maintains that the accident resulted from sabotage, but other experts dispute that assertion.
Residents of Bhopal have continued to press for more aid for victims, more environmental action at the site, and criminal action against those responsible.
To mark the 25th anniversary, the Boston Coalition for Justice in Bhopal is bringing six leading dance schools from the Boston area to display Indian classical dance-forms. The story of Bhopal will also be depicted in a dance form. Proceeds will go to the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.
The Boston campaign says 23,000 people have died as a result of the disaster, "and many continue to die or suffer from illnesses caused by exposure and water contamination due to the toxic waste left behind." It says, "Indian authorities have failed to bring Union Carbide to account. Moreover, despite the repeated promises to clean up the toxic wastes, they remain, poisoning the water, the land, and spreading its tentacles every passing day."
Master Sgt. Bobby Vongphakdy on duty at Bagram Air Base near Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy US Air Force, by Senior Airman Susan Tracy)
Air Force Master Sergeant Bobby Vongphakdy, who grew up in Saugus as the son of Laotian immigrants, is setting a high bar for reservists from Massachusetts in his many years of military service abroad -- and his relentless focus on learning.
I wrote a profile about Vongphakdy in today's Globe. He is serving at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, teaching local workers civil engineering skills and volunteering at night to teach Afghans civil engineering skills. What's more, he is learning tae kwon do in his spare time. He also is in touch every day with his wife, Ana, who lives in Lynn and is struggling to cope with a one-year-old baby while Bobby is away on his year-long tour of active duty.
It's the kind of sacrifice many Massachusetts families have made since Sept. 11, 2001. About 19,000 Bay State residents have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan since 9/11. We can't write about them often enough.
His employer at home, City Lights Electrical Co. of Canton, won a statewide prize for its support of military reservists.
Bobby's unit at Bagram, the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing, also has posted a video segment with Vongphakdy, for those who want to hear more from him directly.
Britain's ambassador to the United States, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, acknowledges that the battle against Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan is facing "very difficult and traumatic moments," with American and British forces both suffering a surge of casualties.
But Sheinwald says public support for British involvement in Afghanistan is not flagging the way support crumbled for Britain's participation in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Britain has suffered 22 combat deaths this month in a new offensive in Helmand Province, where about 4,000 US Marines were also deployed this month. American fatalities in July surpassed the previous month's record of 28 in the Afghan war. With about 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, Britain is by far the biggest contributor of forces in the NATO operation there after the United States, which is raising its troop levels this year to about 68,000.
Sheinwald spent the last two days in Washington with visiting Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who discussed Afghan policy with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others.
During a visit to Boston today, Sheinwald said public opinion in Britain remains even divided on the Afghanistan operation. "People will rightly mourn every single loss of life. But the public will be prepared to understand the high level of casualties if they see that our forces are being deployed in a strategy that is credible, and which is starting to achieve success," he said.
The ambassador said Britons understand that turning the tide will not be accomplished in a matter of weeks, "but over the next year or so." He warned that Afghanistan would need global support for decades to develop the capacity to govern and protect itself.
"We’re going to have a very long-term commitment to Afghanistan's future. This is not just one year. This is going to be for decades. We’re going to help them get to a state which can they can ward off the return of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. That’s our strategic objective," he said. "We need to avoid the vacuum returning. And that’s what this huge effort is about."
On the issue of climate change, Sheinwald said Britain and its partners in Europe are looking to the United States for "leadership and ambition" as the world enters a crucial phase of negotiations on measures to slow global warming. He said that US resolve on climate change "is a central part of regaining American leadership more generally in the world. And there won't be a successful deal in Copenhagen without an ambitious American position."
He said it is crucial that the Administration and the Senate give US negotiators "a real sense of energy and ambition" going into the talks in Copenhagen in December to craft a successor to the Kyoto climate change agreement. The degree of US ambition, Sheinwald said, will determine whether Western countries can persuade the major emerging powers, led by China and India, to join an aggressive climate-change strategy.
Bangladesh native Abdul Momen, a management professor at Framingham State College, was a longtime critic of successive governments, military and civilian alike, in his homeland.
Now that he has been appointed ambassador to the United Nations for Bangladesh, Momen will have to field criticism of the six-month-old government he has agreed to represent. And some of that criticism is surfacing in his adopted state, Massachusetts.
Rafiq Islam, who lives in Falmouth on Cape Cod and has been in the United States for 26 years, contacted the Globe to say he had just returned from Bangladesh and found the crime and security situation to have deteroriated. He said that extrajudicial killings of political figures also have continued despite the promises of the new government.
He said that the new prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wazed, elected in a landslide victory in December, appeared to be doing what she had done in her first term as prime minister, from 1996 to 2001, promising change and then failing to deliver. "The situation has not improved very much. Many international watchgroups have criticized the government, and the so-called progress has not materalized. It is more of a political dictatorship than a real democracy," Islam said.
I wrote about Momen's appointment in the Globe on Tuesday. Last night I asked him by email to respond to criticism that the government isn't doing enough or acting fast enough. Momen, who is traveling today to Bangladesh to collect his credentials for the UN post, answered by email before departing.
He said that in just a few months, the Awami League government led by Hasina in fact has made significant progress in a number of areas.
For example, he said the government had cut the prices of essential foodstuffs, including rice, by half in the last six months. To reduce corruption, the government has required Cabinet members to declare their wealth, and has made the financial system more transparent. The economy is likely to grow 5.5 percent to 6 percent this year, Momen said, ahead of earlier projections.
He acknowledged that there are law and order problems in Dhaka, the huge capital city, and that extrajudicial killings have continued, although he said the pace of such killings has been cut drastically. "More importantly, in the present government, both the Law Minister and the Home Minister have publicly stated that they will not tolerate any extrajudicial killing and those responsible would be punished to the fullest extent of the law. This is a good beginning. I have written personal notes to both the Ministers to fully stop the extra-judicial killing as it simply unacceptable."
Momen said terror attacks by Islamist extremists had stopped since Hasina took office, but he added that because of campaigns against tax evaders and corruption, "many well-to-do people are upset and they are trying to derail the government."
The daughter of one of the most prominent victims of extrajudicial violence in Bangladesh is Nazli Kibria, a professor at Boston University. Her father, Shah AMS Kibria, a member of Parliament and former finance minister, was assassinated in 2005. The family maintains a web site about Kibria and the assassination. The previous year, Hasina herself narrowly escaped a similar grenade attack.
Nazli Kibria applauded the appointment of Momen to the UN, but said she was upset that nothing had been done by the new government to bring the perpetrators of her father's killing to justice. "My father was a member of the Awami League. We expected this new government to do something, but they’ve done absolutely nothing. My family is not happy about it," she said.
Momen said in his email: "As you know, extra-judicial killing has become a norm, especially over the last seven years, and it is taking time to fully stop it."
The New York Times today reports that the Bush Administration repeatedly discouraged investigations by the FBI and others into the alleged massacre of hundreds or perhaps thousands of Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan by a powerful warlord during the American invasion in November 2001.
The article on the Times website is based in part on research by the Cambridge-based organization, Physicians for Human Rights, which first discovered the mass graves of those prisoners in January 2002. Today, PHR called for a criminal investigation into what it called the Bush Administration's impeding of an FBI probe into the killings.
PHR's website has extensive details of its work over the years on the massacre, allegedly carried out by forces of warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who was part of the pro-US Northern Alliance. The Taliban fighters were captured in the city of Kunduz and were stuffed into containers and transported by Dostum's forces; many were buried in mass graves in the Dasht-e-Leili desert near Sheberghan, Afghanistan.
PHR today cites US government documents saying that "as many as 2,000 surrendered Taliban fighters were reportedly suffocated in container trucks by Afghan forces operating jointly with the US in November 2001."
Dostum has insisted in the past that fewer than 200 people died and that the deaths were unintentional. The New York Times account quotes some former officials as saying that the Bush Administration did not actively quash any investigations, but others made it clear that any such probe would be politically sensitive, and they made no effort to help look into the charges.
The New York Times account, by investigative reporter James Risen, says US officials were reluctant to go after Dostum in part because he was on the payroll of the Central Intelligence Agency and his fighters had worked with US special forces to topple the Taliban regime.
The Times says the Obama Administration is more likely to allow a probe to go ahead, especially because Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently brought Dostum back from exile to take up a senior position in his government. The Times says the US government has objected privately to Karzai about the appointment.
PHR researcher Nathaniel Raymond, who has been investigating the case for years, said in a statement: “Contrary to the legal opinions of the previous Department of Justice, the principles of the Geneva Conventions are non-negotiable, as is their enforcement. President Obama must open a full and transparent criminal probe and prosecute any US officials found to have broken the law.”
Susannah Sirkin, PHR's deputy director, said, “Our researchers documented an apparent mass grave site with reportedly thousands of bodies of captured prisoners who were suffocated to death in trucks. That was 2002; seven years later, we still seek answers about what exactly happened and who was involved.”
"PHR is calling once again for a full investigation into what we consider to be an alleged war crime of historic magnitude," she added.
Boston's Tamil community is holding a fast and a vigil this afternoon and evening at Copley Square to protest what Tamil leaders say are continuing abuses of civilians since the final offensive by the Sri Lankan military against Tamil rebels last month.
Siva Logan, a leader of Tamils in the Boston area, says in an announcement that protesters will gather at noon, and remain there across from the Public Library until a candlelight vigil at 8:30 p.m.
The Boston Tamil Association of New England says the protest is on behalf of what it maintains are 300,000 Tamils still held in detention camps after the end of the decades-old war, which ended in a furious offensive by the Sri Lankan military ending the Tamil ethnic minority's separatist fight. The association says the fast also will mourn a death toll it says reached 30,000 in the final phase alone. The Sri Lankan government has said the toll is far lower than that, but independent observers have acknowledged widespread suffering in areas that were previously controlled by the Tamil guerrillas.
The community is calling on President Obama and the United Nations to observe the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine and to intervene on behalf of the civilians still caught up in the aftermath of the war.
Doctors with first-hand experience treating victims of terrorist attacks around the world are sharing their expertise today with several hundred medical and emergency officials from greater Boston.
The title of the conference, being held at the John F. Kennedy Library, is explicit: "Tales of Our Cities: Planning for Interdisciplinary Response to Terrorist Use of Explosives."
Doctors from India, Spain, Britain, Israel and Pakistan are explaining in often grim detail about the nature of the blast wounds they treated, the triage systems they use and other issues that could save lives and improve preparedness in the event of an attack.
The conference was organized by the DelValle Institute for Emergency Preparedness, which was set up Boston's Emergency Medical Service and the Public Health Commission. I wrote a story in the Globe today explaining the six-year-old institute's work in training emergency personnel in greater Boston for potential terror attacks.
The head of Boston's EMS system, Chief Richard Serino, pulled together the conference to learn from medical professionals who have gone through recent terror attacks. Top officials from the disaster preparedness section of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also attending. After today's open session with doctors, police and emergency medical responders from around the region, the CDC officials will meet with the international visitors to update the American emergency response plans.
Among those speaking today was Dr. Aparna Deshpande, a professor of surgery at the huge King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, which was the principal hospital treating victims of the horrific train bombings in Mumbai in 2006 that killed more than 200 people.
She said that attack was just one in a series of terror bombings in Mumbai, dating back to 1993. In 2006, there were seven serial blasts within 11 minutes. She noted that victims will flood to the nearest hospital, on foot or in vehicles, and the casualty unit at her hospital was flooded with victims within 15 minutes.
"The surge is the critical phase in a bomb blast," Deshpande said. Constantly reviewing the patients arriving in an ongoing triage process is also important, she said, because injuries evolve over time. For example, "blast lung" trauma can worsen over a couple of hours and needs careful monitoring.
Surprisingly, she noted, "you do not need extensive surgical support right away to save lives." She said the immediate surgery needs are vital but fairly straightforward. A major priority is good crowd control at a hospital flooded with blast victims to keep relatives and media and volunteers from flooding in.
Physicians for Human Rights, the Cambridge-based organization, has appealed for the release of three doctors detained by the Sri Lankan authorities in the final days of the war there.
PHR senior researcher Richard Sollom said today he had spoken by internet phone last Wednesday with one of the three doctors, Thangamuttu Sathyamurthi, two days before the doctors were detained. Among the topics was the alleged shelling by government forces of rebel-held areas and medical facilities that were packed with civilians trapped by the offensive.
The Sri Lankan military concluded a final assault on Tamil rebels in northeastern Sri Lanka over the weekend, and killed the rebel commanders. That ended for now a brutal 26-year war that included numerous suicide attacks by Tamil fighters as well as bombings of civilians caught in the war zone in the frenzied final months of the war.
The three doctors were detained on Friday by the military and turned over to police on accusations that they gave false information about the civilian casualties to the media. The three physicians are all Sri Lankans who had worked for the government health service even though they were serving in the rebel-dominated northeast. With the news media banned from the conflict zone, the three doctors became important sources of information for international health organizations as well as news outlets.
Frank Donaghue, the chief executive of PHR, said in a statement that the Sri Lankan government forces had bombed medical facilities and killed health workers in the fighting, and he called on the UN Security Council to create an international commission of inquiry to investigate possible war crimes in Sri Lanka.
Donaghue said that holding the three doctors was a serious violation of medical neutrality. Dr. Sathyamurthi is regional director of health services in Kilinochchi, which was the administrative center for the Tamil Tiger rebels. The other two doctors are Thurairaja Varatharajah and V. Shanmugarajah.
Sollom said that while Sri Lankan government claimed to have rescued the thousands of documented internal refugees in the war zone, in fact the government was not accounting for another 100,000 displaced people not in camps.
"This is a huge humanitarian crisis," Sollom said. "They do not have the infrastructure up there. People can die very quickly from dehydration, and drinking non-potable water."
UN Humanitarian chief John Holmes called today for the doctors to be treated properly. US Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and several of his colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also called for appropriate treatment of the physicians and others in the war zone in the aftermath of the fighting.
I wrote in today's Globe about two courageous young Afghan women who are studying at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.
They are among 47 women studying at American colleges and universities through an ambitious program created by Paula Nirschel of Bristol, RI, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the US invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime that sheltered Al Qaeda. The Initiative to Educate Afghan Women has grown steadily since then, with Afghan women on full scholarships at 20 American colleges.
If all of those schools are also taking advantage of the two-way benefits that Holy Cross as well as its two Afghan students are enjoying, then the multiplier effect of this program must be substantial. The program has students at six campuses in New England: Holy Cross, Mt. Holyoke, Simmons and Tufts in Massachusetts as well as Middlebury in Vermont and Roger Williams University in Rhode Island.
As if there weren't enough crises in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Harvard Kennedy School fellow and Pakistan expert Hassan Abbas is offering more cause for worry.
Abbas, a former Pakistan government official who is one of the leading scholars in the United States on security issues in his homeland, says in a new article that most attention has rightly focused on the threat from the Pakistani Taliban in the border tribal areas and the North-West Frontier Province. Those are the traditional Pashtun Taliban militants, who share that ethnic heritage with Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan (and who received US backing in the 1980s to fight the Soviets).
But in a new study in the CTC Sentinel, a publication of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, Abbas describes a growing threat with potentially even greater consequences. He explains that the loosely organized Punjabi Taliban -- from Punjab Province, Pakistan's most populous area -- is gathering strength and momentum. The Punjab is Pakistan's heartland, home to some of Pakistan's largest cities and military installations.
It was these Punjabi Taliban, Abbas notes, who attacked the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team in March, among many notorious attacks. The Punjabi Taliban are working more closely with Pashtun Taliban. The Punjabis are often better-educated, and better-trained in the use of weaponry. Abbas, who is a fellow in the Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, says it is imperative to strengthen Pakistan's law enforcement capacity to counter this threat.
Harvard's Kennedy School of Government has cancelled a scheduled address on Friday by Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai. The president is not going to be able to break away from his Washington visit to speak to the planned forum by the school's Institute of Politics.
The Institute of Politics announced on its web site earlier today that Karzai would give an address at 2 p.m. Friday at a ticketed event.
Karzai's Washington visit comes at a critical moment in Afghanistan, with violence by Taliban insurgents worsening, especially in the south. The Obama Administration is dispatching another 21,000 troops, in addition to the more than 40,000 already on the ground.
Karzai has been leader of Afghanistan since the US invasion toppled the Taliban regime in December 2001, first as interim head of the transitional authority and since 2004 as the country's first democratically elected president. This year's election was supposed to have been held by May but was postponed until August because of security concerns. Karzai made his candidacy for reelection official on Monday in Kabul when he registered formally to compete in the race.
The Karzai family has longtime ties to the Boston area. His brother, Mahmood, opened the elegant Afghan restaurant, Helmand, in Cambridge. Karzai has dined there a number of times.
Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, who returned home Saturday from a six-day trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, says US military officers and Iraqis are committed to meeting the Obama Administration's timetable for withdrawing American combat forces by the end of August next year.
The Lowell Democrat told reporters in a conference today that American commanders are focused on two interim steps -- withdrawing US combat forces from Iraqi cities by the end of June, and then facilitating nationwide legislative elections in December. If both are successful, it will be easier for other elements to fall into place to allow the withdrawal to conclude successfully next year, she said.
Tsongas, the daughter of a US Air Force colonel, led the six-member congressional delegation from the House Armed Services Committee. They met with General Ray Odierno and other senior US officers in Iraq, and discussed some of the impediments to a withdrawal, including a spurt in suicide bombings and delays in integrating Sunni militiamen into the Shiite-led government. She also said the fall in oil prices has crimped the Iraqi government's ability to keep investing in basic services and upgrading technology.
|Tsongas wins office in 2007 special election|
Broadly, though, she said she found wide acceptance of the timetable among the US commanders and Iraqi politicians, even with the recent upsurge in violence. She said she heard the message that "the timetable puts tremendous pressure on the US and Iraq to resolve these issues in a timely way, and everyone is working on achieving that."
"I always advocated a shorter timetable. But I'm grateful to see a timetable that everyone is taking quite seriously. you sense that in the air," she added.
In Afghanistan, she said US officers are preparing quickly to absorb the additional 17,000 troops being deployed there by President Obama to contain a renewed Taliban offensive in the south of the country.
In the southern city of Kandahar, she said US officers acknowledged that the "surge" could lead to increased US casualties. She also heard concerns that the US will struggle to increase its civilian expertise in parallel with the military surge because of a lack of investment in the US foreign service in recent years.
She said that in Kuwait, she visited a facility where workers are hurriedly refurbishing hundreds of mine-resistant armored vehicles, known as MRAPs, that were used in Iraq and now are being sent to Afghanistan.
She said she drove one, and found they are not easy to drive -- they can flip over if turned too quickly. She was impressed with the focus on training soldiers to drive them, and the effort to recondition them for the specific threats they will face in Afghanistan from roadside bombs and other attacks.
India is building its own version of America's 911 emergency call system to respond to road accidents and other health emergencies, and has made major strides over the last four years despite the sometimes chaotic conditions of Indian highways.
Boston Globe correspondent Neil Munshi has a detailed report today from Hyderabad on the new emergency call service -- reached by dialing 108. His dispatch is based in part on interviews with researchers from Harvard's School of Public Health who have been assessing the Indian initiative -- and call it a potential model for developing countries.
The system responds to more than 10,000 emergencies a day, and 73 percent of urban ambulances reach the patient within 15 minutes, while 68 percent of rural ambulances reach patients within 25 minutes.
Munshi writes that the emergency service is built on India's fast growth in mobile phone coverage. He notes that 370 million people in nine of India's 29 states can now call 108.
The School of Public Health's International Health Systems Program carries out research worldwide on innovations in health delivery, in areas including capacity-building and community involvement in health delivery. The director of the program, Thomas Bossert, was among those from the school taking a look at the new Indian service.
Harvard team leader Marc Mitchell told Munshi that the 108 service "is certainly a model for the rest of the developing world."
The WorldBoston organization hosts the second in its series of four global affairs discussion groups on Tuesday night at the Boston Public Library. The topic is timely: what's ahead for Afghanistan and Pakistan?
The speakers are:
-- Professor Ayesha Jalal, who is the Mary Richardson Professor of History at Tufts University, and also Director of the Center for South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies at Tufts, and;
-- Razia Jan, Humanitarian and founder of Zabuli School for girls in her native Afghanistan
WorldBoston, which is the Boston branch of the World Affairs Council, describes the topic this way: "Newfound hopes for stability in Iraq have shifted the U.S. military focus back to Afghanistan and Pakistan, one of the most volatile border regions in the world. What impact will this renewed interest have on the two states as well as on U.S. defense strategy?"
This is the second of four monthly sessions that make up WorldBoston's Great Decisions Global Affairs Education Program, which celebrates its 55th anniversary in 2009. The Great Decisions program is sponsored by the New York-based Foreign Policy Association, a non-profit group that encourages Americans to learn more about the world -- as does WorldBoston in our community.
The seminars are being held in the Mezzanine Conference Room of the BPL, from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm.They are free and open to the public.
Next month's seminar, on April 14, will focus on the global food crisis, with a presentation by Dr. Aysen Tanyeri-Abur, Distinguished Visiting Professor and Head Advisor in International Affairs, Northeastern University.
The final Great Decisions program is on May 12, and will focus on Cuba after Castro. The speaker has not yet been determined, according to the WorldBoston web site.
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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