Remembering JFK on 50th Anniversary of Assassination in Dallas, Tx

After watching the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's welcome in Washington this week, one of my blog readers asked me the following question: "Has Any Pakistani leader ever received a warm Washington welcome like Modi's?"

The answer is: Yes, President Ayub Khan of Pakistan received a much bigger and warmer welcome in America than Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week. Before I describe it, let me try and put things in perspective for my readers.

President John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy receiving President Ayub Khan

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger of the United States has often been quoted as saying: “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.”

 Let's interpret Kissinger's quote to explain the crux of the shifting alliances since the end of the US-Soviet Cold War in early 1990s. The United States needed Pakistan to counter the Soviet influence in Asia until late 1980s. Today,  America needs India to check the rise of China as a great superpower which is seen as challenging the United States as the sole superpower now.

Even as the Obama administration courts Modi, the top US officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, are in Beijing for "Strategic and Economic Dialogue".  It's an acknowledgment of the fact that the U.S. and China are the two largest economies in the world.  American Treasury Secretary has described the US-China relationship as "the most important economic relationship in the world."

Meanwhile, Pakistan is drawing close to China to broaden its strategic relationship with stronger economic and military ties.  Joint military programs like the JF-17 Thunder combat jet and the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are manifestations of it.

L to R: JFK, Nasim Aurangzeb, Jackie Kennedy & Ayub Khan at Mt Vernon

Now, let me describe in a little more detail Pakistani President Ayub Khan's 1961 visit to the United States. The fact is Modi's reception pales in comparison to what a Pakistani leader got during the Cold War.

The Pakistani President was extended the rare honor of being welcomed by the US President and the First Lady at the airport when the PIA airplane carrying him landed at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington DC.

He was also given the privilege of addressing a special Joint Session of the US Congress on Capitol Hill where he received standing ovation. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was the first Pakistani leader to address a session of US Congress back in 1950. Pakistani Prime Minster Benazir Bhutto also addressed a joint session of US Congress in 1989.

There was a state dinner in Ayub's honor hosted by President and Mrs. Kennedy at Mount Vernon, the historic residence of  America's founding father and first president George Washington.

Later, he was hosted at a dinner by New York City mayor after he rode an open top car in a ticker-tape parade through the Big Apple with tens of thousands of New Yorkers lining the parade route and cheering him on.

Then President Ayub visited The Alamo in Texas where then Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson hosted him for a Texas style barbecue. Ayub Khan addressed joint houses of Texas legislature.

On his way back, the then UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden hosted a dinner in his honor before President Ayub returned to Pakistan.

The fact is Modi's reception pales in comparison with what the Pakistani leader was given during the Cold War.

Here's a video of President Ayub Khan's US visit:

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

When Ayub Met JFK

Post-Cold War Shifting Alliances

China-Pakistan Strategic Relationship

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

Modi's Pakistan Policy

Chimerica: China-US Relations

Will Chinese Yuan Replace US Dollar as Reserve Currency?

China-Pakistan Defense Ties Irk West


Riaz Haq said…
#JFK hosted Pak President Ayub Khan at Mount Vernon when #Pakistan was an important partner for #UnitedStates in 1961. In 1962, #Kennedy asked Ayub to stay out of #India-#China war. In 2021, #Biden has yet to speak with #ImranKhan via @BrookingsInst

It was First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy who conceived of the summit at Mount Vernon between her husband John F. Kennedy and Pakistani President Mohammad Ayub Khan. She was inspired by the Kennedys’ visit to the Habsburgs’ Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna earlier in the year. She quietly approached the managers of the Mount Vernon estate, who eagerly agreed to host the Pakistanis. She also arranged for the jewelry store Tiffany’s to provide the flowers and decorations for the dinner.

Pakistan was an important partner for the United States in 1961, linked by treaty to the containment of the Soviet Union and China. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) flew U2 surveillance flights from Pakistani bases to monitor China’s emerging nuclear arsenal. The CIA also secretly supported Tibetan rebels fighting for independence from an airbase in what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

Ayub Khan had just suspended Pakistani cooperation with the Tibet covert operation because Kennedy had promised India a large economic aid package and signaled that a closer relationship with New Delhi was coming. The Pakistani dictator was against a closer American relationship with India. Shutting down the Tibet operation was a quiet behind the scenes way of expressing unease with Kennedy’s tilting towards India.

At the request of Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles, JFK took Ayub Khan for a private one-on-one stroll in the mansion garden and asked the Pakistani leader to reopen the airbase for secret resupply flights to the rebels in Tibet. Ayub Khan agreed but asked for a commitment that no American military equipment would ever be provided to India without prior consultation with Pakistan. Kennedy agreed.

The dinner was a great success. The best and brightest of the new administration were there. The main course was poulet chasseur made in the White House and then reheated in a portable army kitchen in the grounds of the mansion.

The next spring Mrs. Kennedy traveled to India and Pakistan. It was the first trip abroad alone by a first lady in the television age. She dazzled viewers everywhere, including back home.


The 1962 crisis set in train the dynamics that would lead decades later to the geopolitics of today with the United States aligned with India and Pakistan aligned with China. It helped spark the nuclear arms race in Asia. The crisis resonates throughout Asia today.

Today Pakistan is the fifth most populous country in the world, with one of the most active nuclear weapons programs. It is China’s closest and most important ally. Relations with India remain tense. Most immediately, Pakistan is supporting the Taliban offensive designed to topple the Afghan government in Kabul after the American withdrawal, though it publicly says it wants a political solution, not a Taliban military victory. The Pakistani army gives the Taliban safe haven, arms, training, and logistical support which are crucial to their ability to operate.

President Joe Biden has yet to talk to Prime Minister Imran Khan once since taking office. Imran Khan has recently spoken publicly about Islamabad’s close ties to Beijing, praising it as a role model and defending its oppression of its Uyghur Muslims. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has spoken with Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa more than once but has yet to meet with him in person. For the Afghan withdrawal, it is probably too late to change Pakistan’s policy to back the Taliban. The puzzle is why the administration is not engaging more actively with this important country.

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