Thousands of people poured in this picturesque mountain town of Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) on Monday to pay their last respects to veteran Kashmiri leader Sardar Khalid Ibrahim at his funeral.
Moving scenes were witnessed when his coffin, draped with an PaK flag, was brought to Sabir Shaheed Stadium in an ambulance from his residence in the town, where almost all shops were closed to mourn the death.
Rawalakot is located at an altitude of 5374 feet and is also referred to as Pearl Valley reportedly because of the abundance of almond blossoms in summers.
As the stadium ground was fully packed, many mourners were standing on its stairs as well as atop all surrounding building.
Residents said it was indeed the biggest funeral gathering in the town in many decades, even bigger than that of his father, Sardar Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, at whose rented residence in Aabi Guzar Srinagar a resolution for accession of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir with the would-be-dominion of Pakistan was passed on July 19, 1947, and who became PaK's founding president on October 24, 1947 and held this office thrice in the following years till his death in July 2003.
Contrarily, Ibrahim had not held any official position in his political career, spanning almost four decades, except for being a five-time MLA. However, his strong conviction in the rule of law and merit, something for which he had even sacrificed his assembly seat once, his impeccable integrity and honesty drove hordes of people from different parts of the country to pay their last respects to him.
They included activists and leaders of political and religious parties, legislators, civil and military officials, legal fraternity members, academics, students and ordinary people.
Prominent among them were PaK President Sardar Masood Khan, Legislative Assembly Speaker Shah Ghulam Qadir, Senior Minister Chaudhry Tariq Farooq, former PaK premiers Chaudhry Abdul Majeed and Barrister Sultan Mahmood, PPP regional president Chaudhry Latif Akbar, former Jamaat-e-Islami PaK ameer Abdul Rashid Turabi MLA, former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa minister Yousaf Ayub Khan and PaK High Court CJ M. Tabassum Aftab Alvi.
Many of the mourners, young and old alike, were seen consoling each other with tearful eyes. Many could not help but emit short mournful squalls. "Though he never remained president or PM yet he ruled the hearts of people and this huge funeral is a proof," remarked Khawaja Kashif Mir, of Rawalakot.
Raja Shujaat of Bagh district pointed out that the late leader had led a clean and simple life, without even an iota of pomp and show. "No temptations could ever change his stance and style," he said.
The funeral prayers were led by Maulana Saeed Yousuf, a senior Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam PaK chapter leader from the neighbouring Sudhnoti district, at about 2pm.
In a departure from a common tradition, no speeches were delivered at the conclusion of funeral prayers and the coffin was taken to the ancestral burial site on the outskirts of Rawalakot after an hour, during which the mourners had his last glimpses.
In Kot Mattay Khan village, he was laid to rest next to the grave of his father.
PaK government had announced a closed holiday on Monday to mourn the death of Ibrahim, who had returned in 2016 polls as an ally of the PML-N but had switched over to opposition benches due to some differences with the ruling party over election against the reserved seats as well as the office of the PaK president.
Ibrahim was hopeful that the PML-N would consider him for the presidential slot but felt betrayed when the name of Sardar Masood for this office came like a bolt from the blue. Interestingly, Masood is son of Ibrahim's first cousin.
However, a visibly disturbed Masood Khan told reporters at the funeral that the death was a great loss not only of his family, the Sudhan tribe but also all Kashmiris on either side of the divide, as he was a staunch supporter of the Himalayan region's access to Pakistan.
"In his death we have lost a person of high moral standards and impeccable integrity who strongly believed in the politics of civility and principles and never budged on his principled stands," he said. Senior minister Tariq Farooq was also full of praise for the late leader.
"Khalid sahib was an incorruptible, conscientious, dignified, courageous, civilised and immaculate politician whose absence will be felt for long times to come," he said.