Jackie In Khyber
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How A First Lady Nurtured U.S.-Pakistan Relations

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Warm Friendship In Cold War

Most of Pakistan remains off limits for anyone working for the U.S. government, while the State Department warns against all “non-essential” travel to the country.

Arrival ceremonies for President Mohammad Ayub Khan of Pakistan. President Ayub Khan shakes hands with President John F. Kennedy; First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy; Secretary of State Dean Rusk (right, behind President Kennedy). Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.
Arrival ceremonies for President Mohammad Ayub Khan of Pakistan. President Ayub Khan shakes hands with President John F. Kennedy; First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy; Secretary of State Dean Rusk (right, behind President Kennedy). Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.JFK Library and Museum

But their nearly 70-year-old bilateral ties were shaped by warm personal relations between leaders bound by a Cold War alliance. Connections among leaders and their engagement in public diplomacy generated goodwill and brought their people together.

A visit by beloved U.S. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1962 was memorable. Half a century later, it is still the only trip by a U.S. first lady to the Islamic country.

State dinner in honor of President Mohammad Ayub Khan of Pakistan. (Clockwise from top) Phyllis Chess Ellsworth, wife of Secretary of the Treasury C. Douglas Dillon; President Mohamamd Ayub Khan; First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy; Foreign Minister of Pakistan Manzur Qadir
State dinner in honor of President Mohammad Ayub Khan of Pakistan. (Clockwise from top) Phyllis Chess Ellsworth, wife of Secretary of the Treasury C. Douglas Dillon; President Mohamamd Ayub Khan; First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy; Foreign Minister of Pakistan Manzur QadirJFK Library and Museum

Khyber Pass

After assuming office in January 1961, President John F. Kennedy was keen to retain Pakistan as an ally and prevent it from falling into the Soviet fold. He struck up a friendship with Pakistani military dictator General Ayub Khan and received him at the Oval Office in July that year.

 President John F. Kennedy Meets with Mohammad Ayub Khan, President of Pakistan
President John F. Kennedy Meets with Mohammad Ayub Khan, President of PakistanJFK Library and Museum

His wife, often referred to by her nickname, Jackie, was enthralled by Khan’s “captivating stories of life in Pakistan,” according to former Secret Service agent Clint Hill, who was in charge of the first lady’s security.

Jackie arrived in Pakistan in March 1962, where one of her stops was the historic Khyber Pass.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy visited the Khyber Pass near Pakistan's western border with Afghanistan. Standing at left: United States Ambassador to Pakistan, Walter P. McConaughy; Governor of West Pakistan, Malik Amir Mohammad Khan
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy visited the Khyber Pass near Pakistan's western border with Afghanistan. Standing at left: United States Ambassador to Pakistan, Walter P. McConaughy; Governor of West Pakistan, Malik Amir Mohammad KhanJFK Library and Museum

Rashida Shahid Jan, now in her mid-70s, was then a college student. She was among the enthusiastic crowd that saw Jackie at Peshawar Airport. The northwestern city is the gateway to the Khyber Pass. Jan vividly remembers the scene:

Jackie wore the traditional Karakul hat Khan gave her. Hill wrote she had praised the Pakistani leader’s headgear as they drove to the airport in the garrison city of Rawalpindi to fly to Peshawar. “It is yours, Mrs. Kennedy,” Hill remembered Khan as saying. The first lady laughed and said, “Thank you, I must get one for President Kennedy, too.”

Jackie met tribal leaders from the Afridi and Shinwari Pashtun tribes. They presented her with a sheep and a dagger as symbols of hospitality. On the way, her motorcade received a warm reception in the streets of Peshawar, particularly when she drove through the Qissa Khawani Bazaar, or storytellers’ market. The evening was capped by an impressive presentation of the Pashtun dance Attan, often called the Khattak dance in Pakistani parlance.

A Horse from Lahore

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and President of Pakistan, Mohammad Ayub Khan, travel by car to the residence of the Governor of West Pakistan, Malik Amir Mohammad Khan, following Mrs. Kennedy’s arrival in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan. Secret Service agent, James Jeffries, sits in middle of front seat of car.
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and President of Pakistan, Mohammad Ayub Khan, travel by car to the residence of the Governor of West Pakistan, Malik Amir Mohammad Khan, following Mrs. Kennedy’s arrival in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan. Secret Service agent, James Jeffries, sits in middle of front seat of car.JFK Library and Museum

Spring blossoms welcomed Jackie in the eastern city of Lahore on March 21, 1961. Crowds lined the avenue as Khan accompanied her in an open-top car to the Governor’s House in the city center.

“People were throwing handfuls of flower petals at the car,” Hill noted in his book, Mrs, Kennedy And Me.

“My dear Mrs. Kennedy, on behalf of the people of Pakistan, I present to you Sardar,” Khan told Jackie. “It is my hope that every time you ride Sardar, you will remember with fondness the time you spent in Pakistan.”

Garden Party

Later that evening, Khan hosted a reception for Jackie at Lahore’s centuries-old Shalimar Gardens. Some 7,000 guests greeted the first lady that night.

Bashir: The Camel Cart Driver

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s trip to India and Pakistan: Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan, visit to children’s wing, Jinnah Central Hospital
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s trip to India and Pakistan: Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan, visit to children’s wing, Jinnah Central HospitalJFK Library and Museum
The Camel Cart Driver
Friend of Lyndon Johnson, his Excelency Bashir Sarban, the camel cart driver.Read More →

Jackie’s final stop was in the southern city of Karachi, which was then the country’s capital. She made sure to meet a local camel cart driver who had become a fast friend of then U.S. Vice President Lyndon Johnson.

Jakie's Magic

The first lady returned to the United States on March 29. Some 55 years later, U.S. public diplomacy in Pakistan has yet to repeat the magic of Jackie’s visit.

Group Greets First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy upon her Return from India and Pakistan
Group Greets First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy upon her Return from India and PakistanJFK Library and Museum