By: Sheryl Smith-Rodgers
Like a true Texan, Lyndon Baines Johnson often drawled “y’all come see us, heah” to friends and strangers alike. One invitation in particular strengthened diplomatic ties between the United States and Pakistan and created a media flurry.
While on a goodwill tour of Asia in spring 1961, Johnson—then vice president—shook hands with cheering crowds, handed out pens, and offhandedly invited spectators to visit him in the United States. In Pakistan, on his way from the airport into Karachi, Johnson got out of his car, jogged alongside the motorcade, and started his customary handshaking. Spotting a barefoot man next to a camel, Johnson chatted with him through an interpreter. Naturally, the conversation ended with one of Johnson’s open-ended invitations.
The next day, Dawn, Karachi’s English-language newspaper, headlined the encounter and praised Johnson for reaching out to camel driver Bashir Ahmad, “the man with no shirt on his back.” U.S. Embassy officials urged Johnson to make the trip happen or else he’d look like a fool.
That fall, Ahmad flew to New York. Johnson whisked him away to Texas, where he stayed at the LBJ Ranch near Stonewall. During his three-day visit, the vice president showed him around the ranch, took him horseback riding, and hosted a barbecue in his honor. Ahmad charmed Americans with his eloquence and grace. “Smoother than a camel,” he remarked of his horse ride. After learning about Texas history and culture from folklorist J. Frank Dobie and historian Walter Prescott Webb, Ahmad responded: “Well-said words are like golden plums in silver bowls.”
On their final day together, Johnson escorted Ahmad to the Texas State Fair in Dallas, then Ahmad toured parts of Missouri before returning to Pakistan. After Ahmad returned home, Pakistani and United States officials heralded the trip as a diplomatic victory.