National Geographic : 2007 Sep
Pakistan's founders wanted to show how Islam, merged with democratic ideals, could embrace the modern world. Pakistani chic takes the stage at a fashion show in Karachi (right), the port city that fuels the country's economic growth. "We have to prepare for tomorrow," says Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. "You can't drive a car looking in the rearview mirror." white ambulances positioned across Pakistan, tended by thousands of volunteers. They are usu ally first to arrive on the scene of any tragedy. In May 2002, when police found the remains of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journalreporter murdered in Karachi, it was Edhi who gently collected the body parts, all ten, and took Daniel Pearl to the morgue. Edhi was born in the Indian town of Bantva, 250 miles from Mumbai. As a teenager, he'd gone with his father to hear Jinnah, the tall, gaunt, visionary founder of Pakistan, deliver a speech urging local Muslims to join him in the new country. At first his father hesitated. But during partition, when Hindu mobs began marauding nearby, the family joined the more than 14 mil lion people from both countries-Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs-who fled their homes and crossed to the other side of the line. As many as a million people died in sectarian riots, mas sacres, and killings along the way. Edhi's family came by ship, landing on September 6, 1947, three weeks after Pakistan came into being, amid throngs of people shout ing "Pakistanzindabad-longlive Pakistan!" Within an hour, as he walked the streets of his new home, he saw a Hindu man murdered by a mob of young Muslim boys. "They stabbed him over and over with a knife, and I'll never forget watching him writhe in pain on the ground. All over Karachi, Hindus were packing up and running away, exactly as we'd done in India. Just like that, our joy turned to horror and shame. That's what I remember about partition." Edhi's adopted city of Karachi has grown from a population of 450,000 in 1947 to a surging metropolis of more than 15 million people. It may be the most cosmopolitan of Pakistan's cities, but it is among the most dangerous as 48 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEPTEMBER 2007 well-a place where Pakistan's widening gap between rich and poor is on full display. Karachi is a sprawling universe of ram shackle neighborhoods that radiate north, west, and east from the glitzy seaside hotels, office towers, and diplomatic fortresses downtown, where car bombs are an occupational hazard and personal security a billion-dollar-a-year business. Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups are known to operate in the squalid "no go" neighbor hoods of Karachi, beyond the reach of police and perhaps even Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's powerful military intelligence agency. In the middle of all this sits Edhi, a dignified man wearing a gray shalwarkameez (Pakistan's national dress) and a furry black cap in the style Jinnah wore-a fitting touch in a man who describes himself as a "super patriot." In a neigh borhood of litter-strewn streets, Edhi's head quarters is a cluttered office that adjoins the two small rooms where he lives with his wife, Bilquis, his partner in the foundation. Edhi's operation relies on donations; he refuses to accept govern ment money or even a ride in someone else's car. He travels by ambulance, in case someone needs help along the way. Outside Edhi's office, a metal crib is stationed on the stairway beneath a sign reading, "Don't Kill Your Baby." Every Edhi Foundation office in the country has such a crib, where a mother can leave an unwanted baby, no questions asked. Edhi's Karachi office alone receives 90 babies a month, half of them alive.