KARACHI: Abdul Sattar Edhi, one of the most respected and loved personalities of Pakistan, was laid to rest at Edhi Village on the outskirts of the metropolis on Saturday evening following his funeral prayers at the National Stadium Karachi (NSK) which were attended by a large number of people despite strict security for VVIPs.
It was the country’s first state funeral in the past 28 years. A day of mourning was also observed across the country over the death of Edhi, 92, who passed away on Friday night after a long struggle with renal disease.
The grave at Edhi Village on Superhighway was selected by him 25 years ago.
Members of the general public inconvenienced by security measures for VVIPs
Edhi’s funeral was attended, among many, by President Mamnoon Hussain, Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, Naval Chief Admiral Zakaullah, Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad Khan, Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif who also represented Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, representatives of political and religious parties, well-known figures from religious minorities, civilians and a large number of servicemen, besides Edhi’s own family members, including his eldest son Faisal.
The presence of the many VIPs on the NSK grounds created a divide between them and the common people who arrived from all over Karachi and even other cities to pay their last respects to their hero, whose love for humanity remained undimmed throughout his life.
Behind three white ropes marking the standing space for the dignitaries lay a barbed wire to keep the commoners from crossing over the partition.
Following announcements on radio and TV that NSK’s gates would be locked shut for security reasons at 11.30am, the people wanting to attend the funeral started coming in early, only to be greeted by barriers at different places around the stadium. They were directed to park their vehicles at the Expo Centre at a distance from where they were expected to walk to NSK’s Gate Nos 3, 4, 5 and 6.
Women were not allowed inside though some who knew any dignitary accompanied him inside, while a few entered through Gate Nos 11 and 12, reserved for the media. The VIPs arrived through the stadium’s main entrance.
Stringent security measures in and around the venue somewhat affected the numbers arriving to pay their respects to Edhi. With security checks taking too long at the gates, several people turned away to go back home and watch the funeral proceedings on TV. The overcast skies were like a blessing for those standing in the open for hours.
Naheed Rais and Naghma Ijaz, two women who arrived through the media entrance, shared their sadness over the turning away of the people. “So what if there is extra security? It hasn’t even stopped folks from going to the beaches on New Year’s Eve and to concerts,” said Ms Rais.
Her friend Ms Ijaz also seemed disappointed. “Just sharing your thoughts on Facebook or tweeting about losing our hero on Twitter isn’t enough. This is Edhi sahib’s funeral. When so many people could turn up for Amjad Sabri’s funeral, why couldn’t they come here? I was expecting the roads leading up to the stadium to be blocked and am surprised to see the stadium ground only sparsely full,” she said.
“We come from F. B Area, close to the Edhi morgue. We get to see Edhi services there up close. How could we have then stayed away from the funeral of a man who has cared for so many dead? We are also going to his burial site,” said Ateep Hussain.
Meanwhile, on the ground inside, military police practised their routine on their power motorcycles as they rode to and fro on the sidelines. Ten army personnel of Sindh Regiment with their maroon berets with a red feather also marched inside while pretending to hold up the casket, which was about to arrive at the venue. Others brushed up on their guard of honour.
Meanwhile, most of the front rows were occupied by servicemen in which personnel of the Pakistan Navy stood out in their brilliant white uniforms. The Rangers on their part kept a step behind the army, which controlled the stadium security and other affairs.
Finally, the casket draped with Pakistan’s flag and showered with rose petals, arrived in the stadium after Zuhar prayers on a military jeep. The funeral prayer was led by Maulana Ahmed Khan Niazi. As soon as the prayers were offered, the people made to stand in the back behind the dignitaries could not control their emotions and broke through the barbed fence.
It was announced several times that his face would not be shown with requests for the people to keep calm, but it became too much to expect after the funeral prayers when loud chants of Nara-i-Takbeer saw them forcing their way over the barbed fence while the dignitaries were whisked away.
The 10 Sindh Regiment men carried the casket aloft before placing it on a cannon and taking it away for his final destination.
A 19-gun salute was also presented to honour the services of the late Edhi. The gunfire jolted the crowd a bit to make them stop in their tracks for a while.
The social worker and philanthropist, who lived for the oppressed, started his welfare work back in 1949 when he converted a Hillman truck into an ambulance that he also learnt to drive himself. Two years later, he opened a one-room dispensary in Mithadar in 1951 to help the ailing poor of the country.
From such humble beginnings, his goodwill saw the expansion of his organisation from Edhi Trust to the Edhi Foundation, which runs the country’s largest ambulance service along with women’s health centres, mortuaries, orphanages, shelters, homes for the elderly, abandoned children, the disabled, oppressed women, drug addicts, etc.
Edhi gave over 60 years of his life to the welfare of the poor, hungry and homeless, not even thinking about building a proper house for himself and his family. Earlier this year, Edhi, who remained dependant on dialysis which left him too weak in his old age, appointed his son Faisal as the managing trustee of his foundation.
The last time Pakistan held a state funeral was for former military dictator General Zia ul-Haq in August 1988.
Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2016