Behind the Curtain – Death of a Renowned Social Worker
Posted on July 11th, 2016

By Afshain Afzal

American dual nationality holder and renowned social worker, Mr. Abdus Sattar Edhi died in a local hospital on 8 July 2016, after a prolonged illness and a lot of pain and discomfort for years. His funeral prayers were attended by Chief Minister Sind, Chief Minister Punjab, general public, and a large number of Pakistan Armed Forces personnel including all the three Forces’ chiefs. His dead body was brought from Mithadar to National Stadium, Karachi under Pakistan Navy escort and after funeral, his body was carried for burial at Mr. Edhi Village Sohrab Goth again under Pakistan Navy escort.   Mr. Edhi was was laid to rest at the Edhi Village in a grave he had dug for himself many years back, with an intention that people would come to his shrine and offer prayers. On the occasion Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced 9h July as a national day of mourning, Nishan-i-Imtiaz posthumously and a state funeral and termed his death as an irreparable loss for the people of Pakistan. The Prime Minister said though he wished to attend Mr. Edhi’s funeral in person, however his present position deprives him of the ability to do so.

Pakistan has also made a new history by giving 19 Gun Salute to Mr. Abdus Sattar Edhi as there is no such president in the past. In Pakistan a gun salute is used on occasions such as on the occasion of Independence Day, Pakistan Day, Defence Day and birthday of Holy Prophet Mohammad Alhe Salam (Sal Allah Ho Alhe Wasalam). It is also given when a foreign president or prime minister visits Pakistan. Late Mr. Edhi was very popular in India. He not only frequently visited India but was also awarded Peace and Harmony Award (Delhi) in 2001, Peace Award (Mumbai) in 2004, Peace Award (Hyderabad Deccan) in 2005 and Gandhi Peace Award (Delhi) in 2007. If we recall, a young undented girl reached Pakistani city of Lahore, apparently on train from India. She was found by police and sent to a state-run shelter. After sometime she was brought to a home run by the Mr. Edhi Foundation in early 2012. Mr. Ansar Burney joined hands with Mr. Edhi and went to India with photos and video of the girl to try and find her family but I couldn’t trace any leads.

Mr. Abdul Sattar Edhi was also awarded Shield of Honor by Pakistan Army for promoting the cause of social welfare service. Edhi played a significant role in Lal Masjid tragic incident. Although, it could be confirmed if he was really part of the delegation which carried out negotiation between the authorities and Maulana Abdul Rasheed Ghazi to avert bloodshed at the Lal Masjid-Jamia Hafsa compound, but Mr. Edhi did issue statements after the launch of pre-dawn ‘Operation Silence’ that he had knew from the first day that the obstinate ‘Maulvi’ would not listen. He disclosed that he was in the knowledge of the operation the army had asked him to prepare 400 white shrouds used for covering the dead. In an interview to Daily Dunya newspaper, Mr. Edhi said, At the time of Lal Masjid operation, I and my wife Bilqees Edhi were there and we had tried to convince Lal Masjid administration to avoid violence. But they just kept on saying Jihad, Jihad… And the result was obvious for this adamant approach.”

Late Mr. Edhi claims that PTI leader Imran Khan and few others, mostly military and intelligence officials, who were conspiring to overthrow Benazir Bhutto’s second government, wanted him to get involved. However, he declined as he never wanted to tarnish the credibility of his organisation by getting embroiled in something that obviously seemed quite disturbing. Late Mr. Edhi added that he was made to feel threatened enough to temporarily leave the country. It is important to mention here that Mr. Edhi and his family are not only American citizens but also frequently visit USA. In January 2008, US immigration officials and intelligence agencies interrogated Mr. Edhi at the Airport in New York for over eight hours, and seized his passport and other documents. Mr. Edhi disclosed that US immigration officials were suspicious over his frequent visits to US and fact that despite holding Green Card, he is not living in the US.

Several documentaries were also prepared on the work of Mr. Edhi including one directed by Tariq Bassam and Omar Mullick, titled These Birds Walk”. The documentary follows that Mr. Edhi discovered that many Pakistani women were killing their babies at birth, often because they were born outside marriage, where one new-born child was stoned to death outside a mosque on the orders of religious leaders.  So he placed a little cradle outside every Mr. Edhi Centre along with a sign that reads: Do not commit another sin: leave your baby in our care.” Mr. Edhi till 2013 saved 35,000 babies and found families for approximately half of them. To understand Mr. Edhi motives, we have to peep into his past.

Mr. Abdus Sattar Edhi was born in Bantwa, Gujarat, India. He adopted the profession of attracting people by performing acrobats in the street to make his both ends meet. His father was a poor person who was engaged in sale of cloth. He shifted to Pakistan much after partition in 1947 with a hope to make hay in the sun. However, in the initial years it was not very successful. His son Faisal Edhi in an interview revealed, He (Edhi) thought that this new Muslim nation would be a social welfare state but, when they got to Pakistan, he found it was the exact opposite”. After migration from India he managed to acquire a Hindu evacuee house and stated living there. Later he was adjusted in a Memon Dispensary in Mithadar.

In 1951 Mr. Edhi negotiated a small room where he opened a nursing maternity clinic. Interestingly, young Mr. Edhi, although had never done MBBS or any medical course but he along with his friends used to give lecture about maternity to young girls. It would surprise many that he visited many countries including Iran, Greece, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.  Mr. Edhi had been proposing many midwives to marry him but this could never be materialized. Later, in later 40s he came across Bilquis who also joined the midwifery course. The love affair of Mr. Edhi and Bilquis continued for several years finally they married in 1966, when Mr. Edhi was 38 years. Presently, Mr. Edhi has four children from Bilquis.

There are many allegations on Abdus Sattar Edhi ranging from removal of human organs and later getting them killed in a terrorist activity, links with foreign governments, links with intelligence agencies, corruption in collection of charity money to transporting weapons in Edhi ambulances for terrorist activities. Whatever, the case may be, Mr. Edhi also did a lot of humanitarian work and served the poor. In one of his interviews, he pointed out that Pakistan is at a critical make-or-break stage, and if the system does not undergo a major overhaul, I am afraid that the country may even break up. Given the current conditions, it will take nothing short of a calculated, studied revolution to change things and save Pakistan. One wonders Pakistan is facing identity problem and probably same is the reason why we are directionless. The death of Mr. Edhi has proved that unfortunately Pakistani nation is divided and people are unable to differentiate between friends and enemies.  Nevertheless, there are high hopes that we would be able to implement ideology of Pakistan and our Constitution for better tomorrow.

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