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Thousands attend Pakistani philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi's funeral

HE LIVES ON:“While mourning the passing of someone who stood out in such a divided country as Pakistan the need for a saint like a Sattar Edhi symbolises the failure of the Pakistani state at many levels.”

The "Soyem" of eminent social worker Abdul Sattar Edhi was held here at New Memon Masjid on Sunday.

Born in 1928, Edhi initially set up a dispensary in the city of Karachi, where he had arrived as a refugee with family after the partition of India and Pakistan.

AFP adds: 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. Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif paid tribute to him as "a great servant of humanity", and said he would receive a posthumous presidential medal and a state funeral.

That tiny dispensary bloomed into a vast network of welfare services across Pakistan known as the Edhi Trust.

In June, former President Asif Ali Zardari had offered to send Edhi overseas for treatment but he refused saying he would prefer to get treatment in Pakistan at a government hospital just like the poor an needy people of the country.

Over almost 60 years Edhi's charitable Edhi Foundation established clinics and orphanages across Pakistan and ran a vast fleet of ambulances, offering help to poor communities failed by inadequate public health and welfare services.

S. Akbar Zaidi
S. Akbar Zaidi

In October last year, Swaraj had coordinated with the Edhi foundation to bring back Geeta, a hearing and speech impaired girl who strayed across the border 15 years ago and was taken care of by the foundation.

There was a guard of honour for Edhi before the funeral prayers began.

"He was humanity himself and Pakistan and its poor, homeless and needy people have suffered a big loss in his passing away", Ateeq said.

In a nation often riven by social, ethnic and religious strife, Edhi won respect from every strata of society for an ascetic lifestyle that was devoted to helping the poor regardless of their background. Geeta, who is yet to find her real parents, told Punjabi that she has pleasant memories of staying in Pakistan and misses her friends there.

"He dared all odds and continued his mission and his funeral was a glaring example of love, he had for the mankind and mankind had for him".

Correspondents say Edhi was Pakistan's most respected figure and was seen by some as nearly a saint.