Top Menu

America and Pakistan: A Love Story

Jackie O in Karachi

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis perched on a Camel in Karachi, Pakistan, 1962

by Ilisha

It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when the president of Pakistan was warmly greeted by the US president, the first lady, and throngs of ordinary Americans, lined up in the streets to catch a glimpse and celebrate his arrival. It’s hard to imagine the Pakistani president being greeted with ticker tape parades in New York City, and standing ovations in Congress.

It’s even harder to imagine a US president referring to the Pakistani president as a “leader of the free world,” and the Pakistani president in turn reassuring the US president of the two countries’ warm and enduring friendship. And yet all of that happened, in 1961.

The footage of Pakistani President Muhammad Ayub Khan’s visit to America almost seems surreal, given the current state of affairs. Pakistan is still officially a US ally, but an unwitting observer could be forgiven for failing to notice.

It’s an understatement to say the optimistic prognosis for Pakistan as a thriving democracy has not panned out, nor has the admiration the new nation once engendered lasted. Pakistan is fraught with problems, and at least one poll positions it as one of the least popular countries in the world, ranking just below Israel and North Korea, one notch above Iran. Who could have imagined that outcome a half a century ago, when people in America and Pakistan seemed so optimistic?

What’s happened in the intervening decades would involve a long and complex discussion. But the implications with regard to Islamophobia are far more obvious.

It simply isn’t true that the West has always hated Muslims and Muslims have always hated the West, as some anti-Muslim bigots would have us believe.  The notion of an eternal Clash of Civilizations is reductionist and must be challenged.

Pakistan was no less Muslim, and the US no less Western, when President Ayub Khan came to America in 1961,

America Welcomes President Ayub Khan of Pakistan

Related: Message from Iran: Tell All Americans We Love Them

, , , , , , , ,

    • Mehdi

      I don’t have too many ideas either, I think the first thing is to see how to get foreign interventions out of the country, especially the US with its drones, this is tied with finding a way to fix matters out in Afghanistan, I know, not easy.

      Another part is about trusting the society more and promoting democracy, the last elections are quite promising from that side, shows that there are alternatives. This would mean less corruption and more sound economical measures in the long run.

      But THE key thing for me is about finding peace with India, this is absolutely necessary, neither country can make it without the other, India and Pakistan need each other and have to end this rivalry madness, this is the key part for me. Making peace would create a real economical cooperation, open new perspectives and also significantly reduce the huge amounts of money spent on armies and unnecessary weapons. Both countries need real leaders and confident societies to make this happen.

    • Mehdi

      What’s sad is the extent to which Pakistan (but also many other countries) have been a victim of many destructive forces and circumstances: – The cold war and the way the US (and also China somewhat) used Pakistan as a proxy for conflicts such as for Afghanistan, then leaving when the soviets left the country.

      – The antagonism with India (where both sides have their share of blame) has led the country to a constant arms race that is very expensive and ruining to the economy, and led to dangerous alliances between the army, ISI intelligence services, and extremist forces. India has a huge responsibility in this madness, especially for Kashmir, but the army also chose to escalate the conflict to dangerous levels.

      – The country is held hostage by a fluctuating and informal alliance of forces that includes political parties (including the Bhutto family, or guys like Nawaz Sharif), the army (which is a strong economic actor), and fundamentalist groups (I’m not saying islamists :-)) – The usual suspects (IMF, world bank, etc.) have also shown up and played their usual routine

      The main loser has been the society, held hostage in the midst of growing violence, and huge economic failures. This is a huge tragedy!

    • Rights

      Aah, so incredibly nostalgic for me. Ayub had some charisma. During his time Pakistan showed pretty rapid economic development. It was also he who introduced the basic democracy, or BD, system in Pakistan. If memory serves, this was in 1961. There were a lot of elections happening during Ayub’s time. It did give people a sense of freedom, democracy, and empowerment. I think the man was sincere in making Pakistan a modern, prosperous nation. Of course by 1969 his rule had run its course. All through the 1960s a certain photograph of his, copied as paintings, appeared all over in Pakistan: General Muhammad Ayub Khan in his field marshal’s outfit adorned with the due insignia appeared on trucks, buses, walls, doors, flags, and even trees. It was a strange phenomenon. To this day one can find the same paintings on many trucks and buses in Pakistan.

      Thank you for posting the clip.

    • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

      Perhaps if the evil Soviet empire is resurrected and the Cold War resumes will another Pakistani president be received with such buoyant spirit.

      Views in Pakistan of the US, where 74% consider America the enemy would be greatly improved when and if the drone war/war on terror ever ends.

      As for calling Ayub Khan the leader of the free world, I think that was rather absurd even for that time period. Leader of the free world in the sense that he wholeheartedly embraced the free market and capitalism.

      From what I’ve read he was however not very fond of democracy or its potential in Pakistanis, this led to some rather unfortunate consequences: a weak civil society, the eventual civil war between East and West Pakistan a few years after he was forced into resignation, etc.

    • mindy1

      We used to be friends, what happend?? :((

Powered by Loon Watchers