Friday July 19, 2024

Five US presidents visited Pakistan during military regimes

By Sabir Shah
July 19, 2019

LAHORE: Contrary to the Pakistani rulers who have visited the United States some 42 times since 1947, only five American presidents have till date landed in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore during the last 72 years, which thus means that it takes over 14 years for a White House occupant to plan a tour to Pakistan.

Interestingly, as it might not escape the notice of Pakistanis, all five of those pro-democracy American presidents were guests of Pakistani military rulers! The fact that American heads of state have only ever dropped by when Pakistani generals were in charge thus signifies that Washington DC is good at cultivating ties when it is in its interests, and only when it knows it will get concrete and positive results.

And well, military dictators in this part of the world have often delivered, whether they were required to support the United States when it wished to thwart the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan during Gen Zia’s time, or when it wanted Pakistan to help it during the post 9/11 scenario during the times of Gen Musharraf. Dwight Eisenhower was the first of the five American presidents to visit Pakistan in 1959.

As Eisenhower’s cavalcade had sided past an ocean of onlookers in Karachi (the-then Pakistani capital), he was witnessed standing beneath a parasol, smiling. Alongside him, waving to the crowd was his host: the Pakistani ruler of the time, Gen Ayub Khan.

Lyndon Johnson was in Karachi on December 23, 1967 to meet President Ayub Khan. It is noteworthy that Johnson had befriended a camel cart driver from Karachi during 1961, while he was on an official visit to Pakistan. Lyndon Johnson was the US vice president at the time, touring Pakistan on behalf of President Kennedy as part of a goodwill mission.

When he saw a man standing on a street in Karachi with his camel; waving at the vice-presidential motorcade, Johnson had reportedly asked a Pakistani government official to introduce him to the ‘camel guy’ called Bashir Sarban.

The camel cart driver was extremely excited to shake hands with the visiting American vice president. He introduced himself in whatever little English he knew. Johnson had then invited him to his ranch in Texas and to the White House. A few months later, as guest of the US government, Bashir Sarban flew to meet Johnson, the Time magazine had stated. He was seen beaming with joy at the New York Airport, where he was received as an official guest. Johnson himself was present at the airport to greet him.

Bashir Sarban was given a tour of the White House, Capitol Hill and other monuments. He had then gone on to visit the Johnson Ranch in Texas, where he enjoyed a ride in the Johnson’s truck and was hosted a sumptuous lunch. Johnson’s hospitality did not end here. When Bashir Sarban had landed back in Karachi, the American government had arranged for his Umrah. So United States sometimes does things to win hearts.

In 1962, the American First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was seen riding in an open-topped limousine through the same streets of Karachi, alongside the same Pakistani general in power. She was on an unofficial visit without her husband John F. Kennedy. So President Ayub Khan had received two American presidents and a first lady during his rule.

Richard Nixon (1969-74) was in Lahore on August 1 and 2, 1969 to meet President Yahya Khan. Bill Clinton was in Pakistan on March 25, 2000, when he had met the then Pakistani president Rafiq Tarar and army chief Pervez Musharraf. Clinton had only delivered a radio address on his tour. George W. Bush Junior had met Gen Pervez Musharraf during his March 3–4, 2006 tour to Pakistan, besides playing cricket with the then Pakistani cricketers Inzimamul Haq and Salman Butt.

However, various US presidents including the likes of Harry Truman (ruled from 1945 to 1953), John F. Kennedy (1961-1963), Gerald Ford (1974 to 1977), Jimmy Carter (1977 to 1981), Ronald Reagan (1981-89), George Bush Senior (1989-93), Barack Obama (2009-17) did not visit Pakistan during their respective stints in power. By the way, the incumbent American President Donald Trump is also yet visit Pakistan. On January 27, 2005, the “NPR Radio” of America had reported: “President Obama’s just-completed trip to India has prompted Pakistanis to leaf back through their visitors’ book with an aggrieved eye. There’s irritation here that Obama has visited New Delhi twice, yet has bypassed Pakistan”.