Sixty years ago, on July 11, 1961, it was an extraordinary state visit It happened in Mount VernonHome of America’s first president, George Washington. It was a summit meeting that still resonates today.
It was First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy who brought up the idea for the summit at Mount Vernon between her husband John F. Kennedy and Pakistani President Muhammad Ayub Khan. It was inspired by Kennedy’s visit to the Schönbrunn Palace of the Habsburgs in Vienna earlier in the year. I quietly approached the Mount Vernon property managers, who eagerly agreed to host the Pakistanis. She also arranged for Tiffany’s jewelry store to provide flowers and decorations for dinner.
Pakistan was an important partner of the United States in 1961, tied to a treaty to contain the Soviet Union and China. The CIA has flown U2 reconnaissance flights from Pakistani bases to monitor China’s emerging nuclear arsenal. The CIA also secretly supported Tibetan rebels fighting for independence from an air base in what was then East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh).
Ayub Khan had just suspended Pakistan’s cooperation with the secret Tibet operation because Kennedy did it promise India’s large economic aid package indicated that a closer relationship with New Delhi is about to occur. The Pakistani dictator was against a closer US relationship with India. Shutting down the Tibet process was a quiet, behind-the-scenes way of expressing unease with Kennedy’s penchant for India.
At the request of CIA Director Allen Dulles, JFK escorted Ayub Khan on a private, one-on-one walk in the palace garden and asked the Pakistani leader to reopen the air base for clandestine rebel resupply flights in Tibet. Ayub Khan agreed but requested a pledge not to provide any US military equipment to India without prior consultation with Pakistan. Kennedy agreed.
The dinner was a great success there were the best and brightest in the new management. The main dish was a chasseur poulet which was made in the White House and then reheated in a portable military kitchen in the palace grounds.
The following spring, Mrs. Kennedy traveled to India and Pakistan. It was the first foreign trip alone for a first lady in the age of television. She wowed viewers everywhere, including back home.
In October 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, China invaded India. As I wrote in my bookThe Forgotten JFK Crisis: Tibet, the CIA, and the Sino-Indian WarKennedy managed two great and dangerous crises on opposite sides of the world. He pleaded with the Indians for American weapons, Kennedy ignored his promise to Ayub Khan, and massive supplies of arms flowed into India. Moreover, Kennedy made it clear that the United States would not tolerate Pakistani attempts Taking advantage of India’s predicament in disputed Kashmir, the president helped deal with the serious crisis his personal relationship with Ayub Khan established at Mount Vernon.
At the height of the crisis, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru asked Kennedy for American fighters, bombers, and their crews to join the fight against the Chinese. It was a very important request. The United States will join the war with China. Before Kennedy had to respond, the Chinese declared a unilateral ceasefire.
The 1962 crisis set in motion the dynamics that decades later would lead to today’s geopolitics with the United States allied with India and Pakistan allied with China. It helped ignite the nuclear arms race in Asia. The crisis reverberates across Asia today.
Today, Pakistan is the fifth most populous country in the world and has one of the most active nuclear weapons programs. It is China’s closest and most important ally. Relations with India remain tense. As soon as Pakistan supports the Taliban offensive aimed at overthrowing the Afghan government in Kabul after the US withdrawal though. say publicly You want a political solution, not a military victory for the Taliban. The Pakistani military provides the Taliban with safe haven, weapons, training, and logistical support essential to their ability to operate.
President Joe Biden has yet to speak with Prime Minister Imran Khan once since taking office. Imran Khan recently speak out On Islamabad’s close ties to Beijing, praising it as a role model and defending its persecution of Uighur Muslims. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has spoken with Pakistan Army Chief of Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa more than once but has not yet met him in person. As for the Afghan withdrawal, it may be too late to change Pakistan’s policy of supporting the Taliban. The mystery is why the administration has not engaged more effectively with this important country.