Friday, 20 September 2013

Basheer Ahmed (camel driver) and Vice President Johnson of USA

He saw him waving hand in the crowed during his visit to Pakistan and walked up to him and befriended him and invited him to visit USA. Life was never the same for the poor camel driver.

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, "You all come to Washington and see us sometime" but was completely surprised when the illiterate camel driver accepted his offer. 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. 

Another account 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."

Bashir Ahmad 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', as well as to Washington D.C., where he was taken to the  
Lincoln Memorial, Senate Floor and 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.

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.

From the Time Magazine, 7 July 1961

"Come See Me"

Tooling along a street in Karachi last May on his Asian whistle-stop tour, Vice President Lyndon Johnson spied one of Pakistan's prime tourist attractions: a camel cart. Lyndon stopped the car, got out to shake hands with startled Camel Driver Ahmad Bashir, 40. While the photographers snapped away, Johnson made small talk. "President Ayub Khan is coming to the U.S.," he offered. "Why don't you come too?" Bashir agreeably smiled "Sure, sure," went home to his mud-and-gunny-sack shack and forgot it.

Johnson, who shook hands from Bangkok to New Delhi, drawling "Now you all come see me." went home and forgot it, too—until he read in Washington a translated press clipping from Pakistan's biggest daily newspaper, Jang, that "the U.S. Vice President has invited Bashir, a camel-cart driver, to come to America. My, Bashir is certainly lucky. He will go by jet and stay in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York." Faced with a féte accompli, Lyndon did the sporting thing: at a televised People-to-People luncheon, he suggested that it would be nice if someone helped Bashir get to the U.S. People-to-People Program, an independent group of international-minded Americans, promptly volunteered. So did the Reader's Digest.

Bashir, meanwhile, had melted back into obscurity among Karachi's 1,000 camel-cart drivers. When the news of Johnson's TV bid reached Pakistan, the Morning News posted a reward for Bashir, spurring a citywide search by Karachians from every walk of life. Bashir and camel were found by two reporters, collecting a load of firewood in a railway yard. The reporters hustled Bashir off to the editorial office of the morning Dawn, where he was feasted, quizzed, and kept virtual prisoner for 14 hours to assure the paper a scoop. Finally, at 2:30 a.m. he was permitted to return to his anxious wife and four children, little the wiser. Explained the confused Bashir: "I'm going soon by first-class airplane to England to meet King Johnson."

Since then, Bashir has become a victim of his own fame. Assaulted by the press and the curious, he has been unable to make his rounds, which usually netted him $4 a day. Now broke, he is living off friends. He was forced reluctantly into his first pair of shoes. His family and neighbors were worried: "Will they let him come back to Pakistan?" "Will he bring back a mem-sahib [white wife]?" What was worse, the bewildered Bashir heard nothing from anyone in the U.S. about his trip. The reasons: the Digest backed out of sponsoring him; People-to-People was having second thoughts; Johnson's formal invitation unaccountably bogged down in the U.S. embassy in Karachi.

Finally last week, ten days after receiving Johnson's message, the U.S. embassy passed on the invitation to Bashir. (The embassy's explanation: it had had "trouble finding" Karachi's man of the hour.) Bashir was invited to come to Washington for the July Fourth celebrations. Reluctantly, Bashir informed the embassy that he could not make it this time, but would be glad to come at a later date. He explained he had no money to buy clothes for the trip or to support his family in his absence, and he had been warned by "several people" that he would disgrace his country in the U.S. (President Ayub Khan's aides were also afraid Bashir might take the edge off Ayub's scheduled visit to the U.S. next week.)

Deeply in debt, jeered at by his neighbors, teased by his customers, Bashir felt taken. "All this hullabaloo has brought me nothing but misery," he said. "Why didn't Johnson meet somebody else?"

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