Faisal Edhi, managing trustee of the Karachi-based Abdul Sattar Edhi Foundation, has offered to send a fleet of 50 ambulances kitted out for Covid-19 patients, along with emergency medical technicians, office staff, drivers and supporting staff, to India. The foundation is one of the world’s largest ambulance networks, with no affiliation to the government of Pakistan.
This offer of humanitarian assistance comes at a time when Indians are looking for hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, plasma and medicines via Twitter, the micro-blogging site now buzzing with hashtags like #IndiaNeedsOxygen #IndianLivesMatter #IndiaFightsCOVID19 and #PakistanstandswithIndia thanks to Pakistani users tweeting in solidarity.
In a letter addressed to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 23, Faisal Edhi has expressed his concerns about the “impact that the pandemic has had”, “where a tremendous number of people are suffering immensely”. He is the son of Abdul Sattar Edhi, the humanitarian who was born in a town called Bantwa in the Kathiawar region of Gujarat in 1928. He migrated to Pakistan at the time of Partition in 1947.
Faisal Edhi has proposed to lead and manage the team coming in from Pakistan, if India grants them permission to enter. He has also promised to arrange all the supplies that they will need, and bear costs associated with fuel, food and other necessary amenities.
Peace activist Jatin Desai, former General Secretary of the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy says, “The late Abdul Sattar Edhi is compared to Mother Teresa for his commitment to service. His foundation has done excellent work. Their integrity is beyond doubt. They have taken good care of Indian fishermen released from Pakistani jails and repatriated to India. They looked after transport, food and stay right up to Wagah border.”
Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife Bilquis Edhi, who together received the 1986 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, also hosted a speech and hearing impaired Indian national named Radha Waghmare for many years in their home. She was found as a child on the Samjhauta Express, a train connecting India and Pakistan.
Since the child’s parents were untraceable, the couple took her in. They realized she was Hindu, so they named her Geeta. In 2015, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj brought her back to India. It was only in 2021 that the woman was reunited with her parents.
Documentary filmmaker Beena Sarwar, Pakistan editor of the Aman Ki Asha initiative that promotes peace between Indians and Pakistanis, says, “People have always stood by each other.” She talks about Pakistani children with congenital heart disease who have been treated in India, and Indian children with the same condition who have received funds for their treatment from Pakistani donors. Rotary Clubs from both countries facilitated this.
Sarwar adds, “When there were floods in Pakistan, doctors offered to come in from India but they were not allowed. My friend, Dr Geet Chainani, who was born in Bombay, and now lives in New Jersey, was in Pakistan to visit a friend when the floods struck Sindh in 2011. She stayed on for over three years to help. We got visa extensions for her with great difficulty.”
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Despite the political ups and downs between the two governments, citizens have consistently reached out with goodwill and material support in times of distress.
In 2015, Indians raised funds for Pakistani teenager Saba Ahmed who came to Mumbai to be treated for Wilson’s disease, a genetic condition that leads to the build-up of excess copper in the body. During the Kerala floods in 2018, Javed Afridi, CEO and Chairman of Pakistan Super League franchise Peshawar Zalmi offered 5000 tents and basic medical supplies.
Keeping this history in mind, will India accept the Edhi Foundation’s offer? The Prime Minister’s Office has made no formal announcement.
Dr Meenakshi Gopinath, director, Women in Security Conflict Management and Peace (WISCOMP), says, “Any gesture of goodwill during difficult times with the right motivation that has the potential to lower the trust deficit between estranged neighbours is welcome. Civil society initiatives have demonstrated the ability of the peoples of our region to transcend intractable borders and boundaries.”