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The Camel Driver and the Vice President of US


Feb 16, 2010
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I came across this very sweet and moving story about a camel driver in Karachi who in 1961 met Lyndon B Johnson (Vice President of USA). Vice President Johnson was a very press savvy man who regularly said to strangers in foreign countries, "You all come to Washington and see us sometime". When he was out and about in Karachi with the press he saw Bashir Ahmed (camel driver) who to Johnsons surprise accepted his offer to visit. After this incident, the camel driver Bashir's become very difficult.

Here is the story, you will see how it ends.

Pakistan: Come See Me
Friday, Jul. 07, 1961​

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.

Kidnapped. 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

Taken. 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?"

But he did manage to go to USA and the whole episode ended in a very pleasant manner.

Nation: Rubaiyat of Bashir Ahmad
Friday, Oct. 27, 1961​

In the course of his tour of Asia last spring, Vice President Lyndon Johnson stopped on a Pakistani roadside to greet an impoverished, illiterate camel-cart driver who had a grin as wide as his handlebar mustache. A true Texan, the Vice President casually invited Bashir Ahmad to "come and see us, heah?" A Karachi columnist picked up the invitation and ran with it: "My, Bashir is certainly lucky. He'll stay at the Waldorf-Astoria." Almost before Johnson could say L.B.J., he realized that his invitation had been accepted, and he was stuck with it. Last week Bashir jetted into New York, speaking not a word of English and wearing shoes for the first time in his life.

Two Prayers to Allah. At the airport, Johnson was pale and apprehensive. But as Bashir materialized like a genie in the plane's door, he soon let his host know that there was nothing to dread. Wearing a jaunty karakul cap, a trimly tailored frock coat and a 500-watt smile, the camel driver accepted the onslaught of press and public with the nonchalance of a Mogul prince. Nervously, Johnson apologized for the chilly weather. Replied Bashir: "It is not the cold; it is the warmth of the people's hearts that matters." In response to L.B.J.'s welcoming speech, the camel driver responded in his native Urdu: "Since I had the honor and good fortune of meeting you. I prayed to Allah for two things: One, for the good health of the American Vice President, and two, that I be allowed to come to America. Allah, as you see, has fulfilled both wishes." Bashir recalled that when scoffers back home had predicted he would die of a heart attack in the excitement of his first jet ride, he had replied: "Then I will have died while going to see a friend."

Everywhere that Bashir went, his fluent comments flowed like a Rubaiyat. In Kansas City, Harry Truman was so flabbergasted that he referred to the camel driver as "His Excellency." At a barbecue on the L.B.J. ranch in Texas, Bashir remarked that his little daughter was his favorite child (only four of his eleven children are living) because "a daughter in a family is like spring among the seasons." Asked about his camel (who was reported to be pining away for him back home), Bashir thought a moment, then opined: "A camel is like a woman—you never know what it is going to do next."

Falling Petals. Said the camel driver to a newspaperwoman: "Each time you smile, petals fall out." Standing on the floor of the U.S. Senate, he observed: "When a lot of minds are applied to a problem, you get a better solution than when one mind is applied to a problem.'' In the Lincoln Memorial, gazing up at the statue of Abraham Lincoln, he said: "When a person sacrifices his life for his country, the country appreciates his services and makes a monument like this that will last forever." Wherever he went in his week's journey, from the plains of Texas to the office of President Kennedy, to the final, bewildering stopover in Manhattan. Bashir continued to drop his petals and to charm the natives. Finally, just as he was about to depart from the U.S. on his jet-propelled magic carpet ride back to Pakistan, Bashir got a telegram from Lyndon Johnson that moved him to tears. Wired L.B.J.: "Since your return to Pakistan takes you so close to Mecca, arrangements have been made through the People-to-People program for you to visit there." Cried Bashir Ahmad: "Allah be praised!"

So wise and well phrased were the utterances of the unlettered camel driver that some newsmen were skeptical. But State Department Interpreter Saeed Khan assured them that he was having a hard time matching his English translations with Bashir's Urdu eloquence. Many observers wondered if the camel driver had not been well coached for his journey; he tended to repeat his most popular lines in the different cities he visited. But what ever the explanation, there was no gainsaying that Bashir was a smash hit where-ever he went. And if a tentmaker could be a poet, many asked, why not a camel driver

Here is a picture of Bashir Ahmed.

ATP did this post on him recently :-

Kismet Konnected Bashir Ahmed
Posted on December 3, 2009
Raju Jamil


That cloudy day of June-1961 gave a weary look due to a mild heat spell which was telling on the faces of the scores of Government officials and diplomats lined up along side President of Pakistan General Mohammad Ayub Khan at Karachi International Airport.

All these people were there to receive Lyndon Baines Johnson, Vice President of the United States Of America who was due to land any moment in Pakistan. LBJ was on a good will tour and his itinerary included a tour of our then capital city, Karachi followed by Lahore and Peshawar.

The Pan American Clipper Jet Boeing 707 landed smoothly and the well decorated tarmac of Karachi Airport saw VP LBJ and MAK take slaute as National Anthems of both countries were played by a band of Pakistan Navy. There were 12 cars in the motorcade that left the airport later. There was a black cadillac driven by Presidential driver Ishaq. It had LBJ and MAK in it with front seat next to the driver occupied by Brig. Nawazish Ali Khan, the Millitary Secreatry to MAK and the American Ambassador in Pakistan followed by a convertible Chevrolet Impala-1959 with DIG-Police Mian Bashir Ahmed. This was followed by an Austin-of-England re-shaped into a Rolls Royce car in which my father Jamiluddin Aali, the then Personal Staff Officer to Ayub Khan and Shaikh Habibur Rahman the Protocol Officer were sitting.


Then of course there were cars like Dodge Dart and Chevy Bel-Air carrying Govt and U.S.Embassy officials. The whole motorcade took route of main Drigh Road (now Shahrah-e-Faisal) for the President’s House (now Sindh Governor House — we lived in the President’s Estate adjacent to the President’s House and Shaikh Habibur Rahman Uncle was our wall-to-wall neighbor in that 1912 one story buyilding which now houses Surveyor General of Pakistan’s Office).

With Police Motorbikes speeding in line and blowing whistles and siren occassionally ahead of the motorcade…the journey progressed smoothly till something happened !!! Driver Ishaq applied brakes smoothly–good enough not to make the car behind hit the Presidential Car. All the followers literally ran towards the Presidential Cadillac fearing that something awful has happened to either of the two VVVIPs in that car when out came Vice President Johnson with President Ayub. They slowly walked towards the site left of Drigh Road at the exact spot where currently stands the Finance and Trade Centre (FTC). On that day however, a 38 year old camel cart owner (Sar’eban) Bashir Ahmed was standing there. He was cladfed in shalwar kameez full of dust and stood shivering next to his camel cart with DIG police Mian Bashir Ahmed (he had the same name as the camel man Bashir Ahmed) consoling him to remain calm.

Vice President of the United States Of America Lyndon Baines Johnson alongside his host President Ayub and many others–including my father—-casually walked towards Camel Cart owner Bashir—shook hands with him and said:
“Hello, I am LBJ from USA and I wanna be your friend!”
to which Bashir was translated the address–and he replied as:
“Salam Sahab, khosee huee aap se mil ke!”
Then 6 and a half minutes of invigilated exchange took place between Bashir and VP USA LBJ. The conversation ended with LBJ taking out a PARKER’61 fountain pen from his shirt pocket—handing it to Bashir saying:
“We are friends now and friends must meet again—so I am inviting you to USA as my guest–please accept?”.
Ten days later, two officials from the U.S.Embassy and two officials from the President of Pakistan’s Secretariat visited Bashir Ahmed at his residence in Lyari (Bashir was a Makrani) for arranging his passport and U.S.Visa. Government of Pakistan got him three sets of sherwanis, a white shalwar-kameez and Jinnah caps from Jalal Din & Sons in Saddar and Rahman Hat Villa near Paradise Cinema with some Onyx products as gift from Bashir to LBJ. Within a week this Pakistani Camel Cart owner from Lyari, Karachi flew to New York by Pan American Clipper Jet Boeing 707 where he was received by LBJ aide. The next 12 days of Bashir were spent in New York, Washington DC and Dallas at the personal ranch of LBJ where his daughter Tricia and Ladybird Johnson held Bar-B-Q party, luncheon and breakfast gathering in honor of Vice President of United States of America Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Pakistani friend Camel Cart owner (Sar’eban) Bashir Ahmed. Later Bashir returned home blessed with some worthwhile gifts which included a Mack Truck and a American bicycle for his son and some financial package to start a more elevated business.

From that day and date of June-1961 till late 60’s the Bashir Magic was the talk of the country and of the State of Texas in USA.


Kismet Konnected Bashir Ahmed became a businessmen over weeks and stayed indebted to LBJ by continuing his correspondence through some Govt Officials assistance via U.S Embassy which ended with the advent of Vietnam War close by to JFK’s assasination in 1963.


In 1972-73 when Zia Moheyuddin started his famous Zia Show by recording it before a live audience at the Fleet Club-Karachi auditorium near Lucky Star-Saddar, I was attached with Zia Bhai as his unaccredited Manager. I was then a young banker at HBL Nursery Branch, PECHS and I took pride in marketing the prize account of Zia Moheyuddin and provided home-service for his banking transactions like picking up his PTV cheques and arranging statements etc. At time I also acted as a chapperone to him at several shows he recorded there.

In one of his shows Zia Bhai invited Sar’eban Bashir Ahmed and after a good inter-action Zia Bhai, mildly pulling Bashir’s leg posed a question on him;
and i remember it as clear as a day that Bashir sort of went quiet and suddenly with a spark in his eyes came back sharply saying;
Bashir Ahmed died sometimes in the late 70’s and the news of his death was widely covered by almost all the Pakistani Newspapers of that time.

If I look at this whole episode closely I think this strange friendship could be the ONLY one of its kind in the World! unless we also name KISMET KONNECTED to the interesting incidence with that lady in Memphis who was staring at a car in showroom when Elvis Presley walked by and asked her if she likes the car and on her shy and smiling reply as “who doesn’t” Elvis gifted that car to her!! I dont know how far this is true but I do remember having read about it somewhere!)


The story told above comes from a key person who has, long time back, told me all of what I have fine tuned above—and he is none other than my father Jamiluddin Aali who is 85 now and Masha’Allah, good on his past days memory but quiet weak on the current. I was discussing this with him just yesterday—and he was quite surprised that I remembered the entire incidence. I was a school student and this incidence or happening—was too exciting and spell binding for us then)

They were good old times, Pakistan was just another little known nation and though there were problems, things were gradually improving. Ayub Khan had turned Pakistan to the least corrupt nation and one that was progressive too.

Unfortunately we had to go down another path. I do hope that we can see calm, progressive and content days again in our nation. Time Magazine wrote in the 50's that Pakistan has gained worlds respect and admiration for it's guts, character and hospitality. The young nation is 'brimming with confidence' it stated.

Then some people came along and wrecked it all, I suggest two books for you people to read. One called 'The agony of Pakistan' by Sir Zafarullah Khan and the other called 'The nation that lost it's soul' by Shaukat Hayat.

We lost our country to the people who opposed it. The treacherous religious parties of the subcontinent.
Speaks a lot about american soft power. I doubt if any other country in that era enjoy such a strong universal softpower!
They were good old times, Pakistan was just another little known nation and though there were problems, things were gradually improving.

Unfortunately we had to go down another path. I do hope that we can see calm, progressive and content days again in our nation. Time Magazine wrote in the 50's that the Pakistan has gained worlds respect and admiration for it's guts, character and hospitality. The young nation is 'brimming with confidence' it stated.

Then some people came along and wrecked it all, I suggest two books for you people to read. One called 'The agony of Pakistan' by Sir Zafarullah Khan and the other called 'The nation that lost it's soul' by Shaukat Hayat.

We lost our country to the people who opposed it. The treacherous religious parties of the subcontinent.

will be looking forward to read em ..
Overall i do agree that Retard Mullahs are nothing but scumbags who have given nothing to Pakistan except for suffering .. but dont you think that the media around the world is quite at odds with us at the moment , I mean all the naive and negative propaganda . . . !

It isn't about the media and it's negative portrayal of us. But rather the incidents that occur in our nation, the role of religious parties, the intolerance, the discriminatory laws and other such factors.

I just want the Pakistan that Jinnah worked for and wanted to see.
Moulvis were and are the staunch enemys of Pakistan as much they were for the secular ottoman empire. They only came to rest after infecting ottomans with their "brotherly political ideals" which bought down the demise of this empire due to constant invasion of Europe for sacred purpose of spreading Islam. This lead Mustafa Kemal to rescue its defeated nation and rebuild it with strict secular anti-mullah policies. When you read history of modren turkey, One can feel the pain this man must have gone through.

Mullahs do not belong to senate and parliment, they belong to mosque. We should learn from Bosnia, it is a nation which took freedom under the banner of Islam yet they do not merge state affairs with mosque.
It should read "West Pakistan". I'm sure you've read the political economy of that day.

Yes unfortunately, through little progress was made in our eastern wing during Ayub's time, the situation was never on par with West Pakistan. Freedom was demanded as early as 1953.

It was not feasible to have a country that had major differences and the in between was our foe.

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