Pakistani Humanitarian


FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: Karachi is several hundred miles from the main conflict zone along Pakistan’s Afghan border, but the war resonates almost every day in this commercial capital of some 16 million people. Hundreds have been killed in recent weeks, some in targeted violence, some randomly, most across the ethnic divides. This largely Islamic country is comprised of several ethnic groups, each speaking a different language. Karachi is often shut down when one or another faction declares its own curfew. Residents complain that the police presence is usually late and feeble. Amid the deadly chaos, one of the loudest voices appealing for calm has been that of an energetic 84-year-old devout Muslim named Abdul Sattar Edhi.

ABDUL SATTAR EDHI: I’ve been asking people one question. We’ve been Muslims for 1400 years. Why don’t we become human beings? Why have we lost touch with our humanity? God doesn’t just love Muslims. He loves human beings.

DE SAM LAZARO: Pakistan’s and Karachi’s fledgling civilian governments are simply not up to the task of bringing order, he said, imploring the country’s top military leader to intervene.

ABDUL SATTAR EDHI: Mr. Kiyani, I am appealing to you. Where have you been sleeping?

post05-pakistan-edhiDE SAM LAZARO: Edhi moved to Karachi from western India not long after Pakistan’s creation 62 years ago. He began an ambulance service in the 1950s, trying to serve a city that was growing rapidly. It now has the largest fleet in the city—mostly simple vans with stretcher, lights, and siren. Partly because the country has few such services, the Edhi Foundation has also grown into one of its largest social service agencies. Edhi, who had little formal education, boasts that his entire budget of more than $10 million comes from ordinary Pakistanis. To demonstrate, he stood on a busy Karachi street for about 15 minutes. Dozens of passers-by thrust money in his hands. It has helped fund food relief in neighborhoods that have been under siege for days during the fighting.

RUMANA HUSAIN: I don’t know where we would have been if Edhi wasn’t around, really.

DE SAM LAZARO: In what sense do you mean that?

HUSAIN: In every sense, because he seems to be everywhere. I mean, even if an animal gets hurt, and if there is a donkey lying somewhere or a crow falling from a tree, it seems that it is Edhi volunteers who pick them up.

DE SAM LAZARO: Edhi has been partnered with his wife, Bilquis, of 40 years. She oversees facilities that house about 9,000: women in shelters, children in orphanages, schools, and this nursery for abandoned infants, most of them severely handicapped. Bilquis Edhi began working as a nurse for Edhi’s fledgling organization. She accepted his marriage proposal even though he was more than 20 years her senior. She says she admired his dedication to serve, drawn from a deep religious faith. The flowing beard, a symbol of his religious practice, was not a plus, she admits. But today, in a more conservative Pakistan beards are common, but she says they are a false symbol of piety.

post02-pakistan-edhiBILQUIS EDHI: People had beards because they were practicing. Today there’s less practice but more beards. It is this high number of narrow-minded people that have created all of the trouble we have in our country.

ABDUL SATTAR EDHI: When there is poverty, illiteracy, when people don’t get their rights that gives rise to organizations like the Taliban, and other such groups were formed, and it just spreads from that.

DE SAM LAZARO: Experts say it’s much more than religious extremism that’s stoked the unrest. A lot of it stems from the way Karachi has grown. Modern-day Karachi has been defined by migration. In 1947 at independence, when the British partitioned India, millions of Indian Muslims flocked to the city. So did people from other provinces of the new Pakistan, like Punjab and the Northwest along the Afghan border, and migration from that troubled region skyrocketed after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and after 9/11. Today Karachi’s neighborhoods, its politics, and much of its strife happen along ethnic lines.

ARIF HASAN: Almost all of Karachi’s issues are related to the conflict in Afghanistan. Even the “ethnicization” of the city is related to Afghanistan.

DE SAM LAZARO: Arif Hasan, a prominent architect and historian, says the divisiveness first came under Pakistan’s military ruler in the late seventies and eighties. Zia ul-Haq also introduced a strict religious conservatism, which intensified as Pakistan, with US support, closely allied with the Afghan mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation.

post03-pakistan-edhiHASAN: And it was from this city that that war was fought, supplies, training, ideological training, the heroin trade that financed that war to a great extent, it all took place from here. Today, if you look the city, the supplies to the NATO troops all go through the city. Because they go through the city almost everyone has an interest in the city. The Americans have an interest. The Pakistani intelligence agencies have an interest. The Taliban are here, the Afghan intelligence agencies are here. They all have a presence.

DE SAM LAZARO: Not present is any consensus on how to govern among the political parties, which are largely drawn ethnic lines, competing for turf in convulsions of violence that have taken a huge toll.

HASAN: Every time you strike or the city closes down, apart from the formal losses that are made, at least half a million households don’t have any earnings on that day because they are day-wage earners, so poverty has increased considerably as a result.

DE SAM LAZARO: On Karachi’s streets, Edhi says there’s growing despair. These men pleaded with him to help them get more police protection in their neighborhood. It is encounters like these that Edhi says prompted him to call for military intervention, much to the surprise of journalists at his news conference.

Journalist: Do you want a dictator to come in, like Musharraf?

post06-pakistan-edhiABDUL SATTAR EDHI: Brother, if for the time being you have to say salaam to somebody, there’s no harm. If a civil revolution comes in there will be anarchy and millions will die. What is needed for three to six months is somebody should come and control the situation.

Journalist: Are you inviting martial law?

ABDUL SATTAR EDHI: Brother, tell me if there’s a different road.

DE SAM LAZARO: Pakistan has already been on the martial law road. Until 2008, this country was mostly ruled mostly by military men. Ayesha Tammy Huq, a lawyer and talk show host, doesn’t think there’s much yearning yet for their return.

AYESHA TAMMY HUQ: We don’t want those people to come back and run this country. The military is responsible for a lot. They have run and controlled Pakistan for so long. The Afghan policy is theirs, foreign policy is theirs. Everything is the military’s, and so therefore we need to allow these terrible civilians who are so corrupt and so dreadful, we have to allow them a little time to get it together and to change the way things are done in Pakistan.

DE SAM LAZARO: And it will be up to Pakistan’s civil society to hold politicians accountable, she says, much as it did during the rule of General Pervez Musharraf. Civic groups led by lawyers fought successfully to restore judges Musharraf had dismissed, eventually forcing out the general himself in 2008. Abdul Sattar Edhi says he can only hope for that kind of change can happen in Karachi with a minimum of bloodshed. For now, demand for his services has never been higher.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this if Fred De Sam Lazaro in Karachi, Pakistan.



  • Nafees Mahmood

    His organization is not restricted to Karachi alone, but it is present in all of Pakistan. It runs the biggest ambulance services, including air ambulance, orphanages and shelters for men women and children. He was even seen abroad, in war zones like Iraq etc. Wherever
    there is human suffering Mr. Eidhi is there. He deserves more than a Nobel, he is a phenomenon, and an extremely rare one at that.

  • Akbar

    EDHI: “My ambulance is better than your mosque”

  • The Humanist

    Pakistan is owned by Saudi Arabia, which needs ignorant and uneducated robots to do its dirty work. Good and sane Pakistanis must take their country back or it will be too late and all will be lost in a nuclear exchange with India.

  • Ken Pomar

    We need more people like him in this world. I agree he deserves the ‘peace prize’.

  • Juliane Jaarrett

    We are — not only — the most dangerous predator on our magnificent planet, — we are, also, the sole carrier of the most dangerous and terrible “disease” — evil. The most effective “antidote” — is the making – public — of the men and women like Edhi, — to inspire, — perhaps shame, — the “Taliban” of
    the world. Ours — (i.e.: religious fanatics seeking to be President of a Nation founded on the separation of Church and State, –) — and those in other lands — are in need of “exposure” ! Thank you for showing the “humane” Humanity — which is our only salvation as a Species.

  • mc

    Religion has nothing to do with behavior. And no religion is superior or inferior to anything. It is a like a dress. We wear casuals; we wear business dress (suit and tie). Whatever dress we wear, we are the same persons. It is unfortunate that in the name of religion many unwanted and inhuman things are happening around the world. We see violence, looting, and all undesirable things. That is why we see all the sufferings. We go to school and study to learn more. But all our learnings are useless, if we are not human;all things are human but being human is something else We live in an advanced world of information technology. But what have we learned from all these? We have deviated ourselves from the path of Dharma and righteousness. People have become very selfish, manipulative, and greedy. As a result what do we see around us?
    Only problems, disaster, and crisis. We must work hard, learn, and earn good things and lead this country to prosperity, not to poverty. That is what we need all over the world.

  • Humaira

    It is the curse of the resources of the land in Muslim countries that we are seeing these endless wars. World War 1 was called by some as the last Crusade. Guess what Crusades and jewsades and combosades have never ended, and they will never end. Its the ongoing SAGA of each century. Take for instance Lybia : A small country being attacked by three major super powers. England , France and America . Using drones . A well preplaned war. See and hear what Dennis Kucinich has to say when he addressed the house.If we all love Humanity instead loving the resources , Our world will be much better place for Christians , Jews and Muslims and others , even the non believers. Even though Judaism , Christianity and Islam teaches the same : love Humanity, but we all fail to practice it. As the learned Mahatma Gandhi of the Hindu religion has said : any religious principle : that is only meant for one group and not for the entire Humanity , then that principle is no good ,and that religion is no good.
    All religions teach good , but the powerful always like to abuse the weak , except those who love and fear the unseen Creator and His retribution for Unjust behavior. He is the Just One in his Kingdom justice is their , it may be delayed , but it is never devoid of Justice.,.

  • Humaira

    Love of God , and Love of Humanity , for the Love of One God of all , Will be a good principle to live with , for all the religions of World.

  • Mazar

    He is a true hero