Islamabad, July 9 (IANS) Celebrated Pakistani philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi, founder of the non-profit Edhi Foundation that provided succour to millions of poor and destitute over the years, has died at a hospital in Karachi. He was 88.
The Edhi Foundation also looked after an Indian hearing and speech-impaired girl, Geeta for over a decade, before she was returned to India in October last year.
Edhi, who passed away at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation in Karachi of kidney failure, high blood pressure and diabetes on Friday night, was given a state funeral at the National Stadium on Saturday.
The funeral prayers in Karachi were attended by top military and political leadership, including President Mamnoon Hussain, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, amid tight security.
There was a guard of honour for Edhi before the funeral prayers began.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is returning from London on Saturday evening, announced a state funeral and a day of national mourning in honour of Edhi, who was known as Pakistan’s Mother Teresa.
“We have lost a great servant of humanity,” Sharif said in a statement. “He was the real manifestation of love for those who were socially vulnerable, impoverished, helpless and poor. This loss is irreparable for the people of Pakistan.”
Edhi’s son Qutab Meer could not attend the funeral as he is abroad, his son Faisal said, adding that Meer could not reach on time.
Edhi’s body will be flown to Edhi village where the philanthropist will be laid to rest. He would be buried with the national flag wrapped around his coffin and accorded a police guard of honour.
Edhi is to be laid to rest in a grave that he had himself dug, in the clothes he was wearing at the time of his death, as per his wish.
Edhi was born to a family of traders in what was then the Bombay Presidency in undivided India on January 1, 1924, and arrived in Pakistan in 1947.
He headed a foundation which supported thousands of needy people and children. He was conferred several national awards for his services to humanity.
The Edhi Foundation is one of Pakistan’s largest public welfare organisations and runs one of the biggest fleets of ambulances, dozens of clinics and orphanages in the country.
Indian girl Geeta was sheltered by the Edhi Foundation after she strayed across the border over a decade ago. The Foundation named her Geeta and allowed her to follow the Hindu religion, as per her wish.
The Edhi foundation played a significant role in helping Geeta to return to India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing gratitude for this, announced a contribution of Rs 10 million for the foundation, which Edhi politely declined to accept.
Motivated by a spiritual quest for justice, over the years Edhi and his team created maternity wards, morgues, orphanages, shelters and homes for the elderly, picking up where limited government-run services fell short.
Edhi had also donated his organs but due to continuous medical treatment, only his corneas could be harvested.
Faisal said Edhi refused to go abroad for medical treatment and preferred to die in Pakistan.
Edhi was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2013, but had been unable to get a transplant due to frail health.
He was so widely respected that armed groups and bandits were known to spare his ambulances.
As news broke of his death, social media lit up with tributes lauding him as “the greatest Pakistani”.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan described Edhi as a “noble soul”, while military chief General Raheel Sharif expressed his “deepest sorrow and regret”.
Washington Post described Edhi as a beacon of hope in a country too often mired in despair. He was an ascetic in a country where politicians regularly skim millions of dollars through corruption; a humanitarian in a country rife with sectarian hatred and violence.
The New York Times said the Pakistani philanthropist’s name became synonymous with charitable causes and he achieved an almost saintly status.
The Guardian newspaper said Edhi was an “angel of mercy” for his social work that also won international acclaim.
He came from humble origins and remained a quiet and modest man all his life.
Edhi has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and appears on the list again this year — nominated by teenage Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai.
Frail and weak in his later years, he appointed Faisal as the managing trustee in early 2016.
Edhi and his wife, Bilquis Edhi, received the 1986 Ramon Magsaysay Award for public service. He is also the recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize and the Balzan Prize.
In 1989, Edhi received the Nishan-e-Imtiaz from the government of Pakistan.