Pakistan mourns founder of its largest charity

Pakistanis placing flowers before a portrait of Mr Edhi in the capital Islamabad on Saturday. Mr Edhi was revered for setting up maternity wards, morgues, orphanages, shelters and homes for the elderly.
Pakistanis placing flowers before a portrait of Mr Edhi in the capital Islamabad on Saturday. Mr Edhi was revered for setting up maternity wards, morgues, orphanages, shelters and homes for the elderly.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KARACHI • A gloomy Pakistan has bid farewell to its national hero, Mr Abdul Sattar Edhi, the founder of the country's largest welfare organisation, who died on Friday in Karachi aged 88.

Mr Edhi, whose death was confirmed by his son Faisal, was revered for setting up maternity wards, morgues, orphanages, shelters and homes for the elderly, picking up where limited government-run services fell short.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced a state funeral and day of national mourning on Saturday in honour of the man who owned just two sets of clothes, but whose work uplifting the nation's destitute and orphans cemented his place in the hearts of Pakistan's masses.

Mr Edhi, known as a "servant of humanity" and who also ran the world's largest private ambulance network, was suffering from severe kidney problems, according to his son.

Among those to attend the funeral were President Mamnoon Hussain, military chief General Raheel Sharif, governor of Sindh province Ishrat ul Ibad Khan, the chief ministers of Sindh and Punjab provinces and many other national politicians, notables and servicemen.

Mr Edhi's coffin, wrapped in the national flag and covered with pink rose petals, was carried on a military jeep into the national stadium in Karachi where there was a guard of honour as thousands paid tribute.

Security officials said that a 21-gun salute was also offered.

Born to a family of Muslim traders in Gujarat in British India, Mr Edhi arrived in Pakistan after its creation in 1947. The state's failure to help his struggling family care for his mother - paralysed and suffering from mental health issues - was his painful and decisive turning point towards philanthropy.

In the sticky streets in the heart of Karachi, Mr Edhi, full of idealism and hope, opened his first medical clinic in 1951. Abandoned children and the elderly, battered women, the disabled, drug addicts - Mr Edhi's foundation now houses some 5,700 people in 17 shelters across the country.

He has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and appears on the list again this year - put there by Ms Malala Yousafzai, Pakistan's teenage Nobel laureate.

Frail and weak in his later years, he appointed his son Faisal as managing trustee early this year.

Mr Edhi leaves behind his wife Bilquis and six children. He gave until the very end, his son said, seeking to donate all his organs after death - though doctors said that due to his age he could donate only his corneas.

The last time Pakistan held a state funeral was for military dictator General Zia ul-Haq in 1988.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2016, with the headline 'Pakistan mourns founder of its largest charity'. Print Edition | Subscribe