Jackie Kennedy in Pakistan Khyber Pass
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy visits the Khyber Pass in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. (Image Credit: Cecil Stoughton/White House Photographs/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

Jackie Kennedy’s Visit to Pakistan: Camelot Meets the Mughals

The First Lady's 1962 tour of Pakistan included visits to Mughal heritage sites in Lahore and the famed Khyber Pass near the border with Afghanistan.

If the Kennedy presidency was Camelot, First Lady Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy was its queen. Her husband, President John F. Kennedy, represented the vitality of post-war America and its aspirations to reach new heights in all realms. For her part, Jackie brought a natural grace and style that was almost royal and atypical for Americans. And it is this image and these talents that she harnessed as a goodwill envoy on a two-week visit to India and Pakistan in March of 1962.

Jackie Kennedy’s Message to Pakistan

Though Eleanor Roosevelt was the first U.S. first lady to travel alone abroad, Jackie’s visit to South Asia unaccompanied by the president was still unusual for the time. Joined by her sister, Princess Lee Radziwill of Poland, Jackie’s purpose was to build American soft power in two pivotal, young states during the Cold War.

The themes of fraternity and cooperation between the United States and a young Pakistan with great aspirations dominate this impressive 15-minute video on the trip. The video was directed by documentary filmmaker Leo Seltzer and produced by the United States Information Service, which, at the time, was the lead public diplomacy arm of the U.S. government.

During her stay in Pakistan, Jackie’s tour included stops at the then-capital of Karachi, the ancient Mughal city of Lahore, and the border regions with Afghanistan. In Karachi, she visited the children’s wing of Jinnah Hospital and, along with her sister Lee, rode a camel. In Lahore, Jackie attended the city’s Horse and Cattle Show, where she was gifted a horse named Sultan by President Ayub Khan. A banquet was held in her honor at the Shalimar Gardens, built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who is most famously known for the Taj Mahal. It was a banquet fit for a queen.

Addressing an audience at the Shalimar Gardens, a site she was eager to visit, Jackie said:

“I must say I’m profoundly impressed by the reverence which you in Pakistan have for your art, and for your culture, and for the use for which you make of it now. My own countrymen too have a pride in their traditions. So I think, as I stand in these gardens, which were built long before my country was born, that that’s more one thing that binds us together and which always will.

Clint Hill, Mrs. Kennedy’s personal Secret Service agent, writes in his memoir, “Mrs. Kennedy and Me,” that over eight thousand people greeted the First Lady at Lahore Airport. Another Secret Service agent told him, “I’ve never seen anything like this for a First Lady.” Jackie, Hill says, “was completely taken by surprise by the outpouring of affection” in Lahore and was “ebullient.”

In the eyes of the Pakistani people, Jacqueline Kennedy represented all Americans. And they loved us.

Clint Hill, Jackie Kennedy’s Secret Service Agent

In some ways, Jackie Kennedy’s two-week visit to South Asia represents a final burst of optimism before the end of innocence. China and India would soon go to war. And President Kennedy would be assassinated the next year. Relations between China, India, Pakistan, and the United States would all become more fraught and complicated in the decades that followed.

Gallery of Jackie Kennedy in Pakistan

Jackie Kennedy’s visits to India and Pakistan were meticulously documented by Art Rickerby for LIFE Magazine, Marilyn Silverstone of Magnum Photos, as well as official photographers. Photos from the tour were included in the collection of Princess Radziwill auctioned by Christie’s in 2019. Two albums commemorating the visit sold, respectively, for over $13,000 and $32,000.

Mogulesque is a digital magazine celebrating the aesthetics, cultures, ideas, tastes, and sounds of the East in their classical, modern, and cosmopolitan forms.

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