[I]t is a measure of the country's underlying goodness, and a sign of hope, that 60 years after independence the most revered figure in Pakistan is not a mullah or a sports hero, but a 79-year-old man who routinely washes dried blood off dead bodies and fishes his clothes from a donation barrel.
Abdul Sattar Edhi began serving his fellow citizens a few years after the founding of Pakistan, when he opened a free clinic in Karachi. Later he bought a dented Hillman station wagon, its blue paint peeling, and turned it into Pakistan's first private ambulance. He shuttled poor people to medical care and collected the bodies of the city's homeless from the gutters, washed them, and gave them a proper burial. "I felt it was my duty as a human being," he says, recalling the revulsion he learned to overcome. "It was obvious the government wasn't going to do it."
Decades later, that hasn't changed. While the military accounts for a quarter of the national budget, less than 3 percent is spent on education, health, and public welfare. And so Edhi still tends to Pakistan's dirty work, body by body. His one-man charity is now an acclaimed international foundation. His single, beat-up old station wagon has grown into a fleet of 1,380 little white ambulances positioned across Pakistan, tended by thousands of volunteers. They are usually first to arrive on the scene of any tragedy. In May 2002, when police found the remains of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter murdered in Karachi, it was Edhi who gently collected the body parts, all ten, and took Daniel Pearl to the morgue.