Bashir Ahmad (camel driver)

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Bashir Ahmad (Urdu: بشیر احمد) (c. 1913 – 1970s)[1] was an impoverished Pakistani camel driver, who in 1961 met with the then US vice-president Lyndon B Johnson and accepted an invitation to come to America.[2] The vice president soon turned the event into a public relations coup.

Invitation[edit]

Lyndon Johnson was in Karachi, Pakistan on behalf of President Kennedy as part of a goodwill mission, it was here that he met Bashir Ahmad in a group of camel drivers on a roadside. He pressed the flesh even patting the camels. He used a phrase he had regularly said in his travels, "Y'all come to Washington and see us sometime" but was completely surprised when the illiterate camel driver accepted his offer.[3] With the press hot on his heels after the acceptance, the vice-president took advantage of the People-to-People program to fund the Pakistani's travel expenses.[4]

Another account[5] indicates that Bashir was invited to the Vice President's ranch and that the surprise came not at the time (at least from her point of view), but the next day in the press. Ibrahim Jalis, a popular columnist in Pakistan, reported that everyone was excited by the fact that the vice president had invited Bashir to come to America. Perhaps, he had made the above reported statement while shaking Bashir's hand, leading to the misunderstanding that he had been invited. His column was favorable to Johnson, and contained the quote, "Don't conquer a country, don't conquer a government. If you wish to conquer, conquer the hearts of the people."

State visit[edit]

Bashir was personally greeted by vice-president Johnson on his arrival in New York City, Bashir was then invited to Johnson's private ranch in Texas. During his week stay, the Pakistani was also taken to Kansas City, where he met ex-president Harry S Truman, who referred to him as 'your excellency',[2] as well as to Washington D.C., where he was taken to the Lincoln Memorial, the Senate Floor, and to President Kennedy's office.

Finally, at the end of his stay, as a gesture of further goodwill, vice-president Johnson made arrangements for Bashir to visit the Islamic holy city of Mecca on his return to Pakistan. This act of friendship bought tears to the eyes of the destitute camel driver.

Liz Carpenter was Johnson's press secretary. According to Liz Carpenter's account, the press coverage of Bashir's visit was beginning to turn ugly. The vice president visited with several press representatives and convinced them in his trademark fashion to shape the nature of the coverage to avoid an embarrassing incident. One of the things that had been reported was that Bashir might not know about silverware. She reported that the problem was addressed in an interesting fashion. She says, "When we dined together, we had a menu that made it possible for all of us to eat with our fingers, such as fried chicken, stuffed celery, deviled eggs, potato chips. On one such occasion during a visit to Dallas, I looked around the table and saw the presidents of four banks and Neiman-Marcus all eating with their fingers to make the camel driver feel at home."

President John F. Kennedy noted about the visit, "I don't know how Lyndon does it. If I had done that, there would have been camel dung all over the White House lawn." Johnson had taken a risk following through with the invitation, rather than trying to explain his way out of it, had managed the press coverage in an expert and somewhat lucky fashion, and had come out of the whole episode with added credit to his overall reputation.

Escorted by Lady Bird Johnson and Luci Baines Johnson, Bashir visited James Madison High School in the Washington suburb of Vienna, Virginia and was cheered by hundreds of students as he addressed them through an interpreter. James Madison was selected because one of its students was Joy Youngblood, the daughter of Rufus Youngblood; Lyndon Johnson's head of security.

References[edit]