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White House Picketed by 5 Pashtoons

October 18, 2011

In doing archival research for a new historical article we’re co-authoring on Afghanistan-Pakistan relations, my colleague Tara Vassefi came across the following article that was published on May 30, 1961, in the Chicago Daily Tribune:

White House Picketed by 5 Pashtoons

Washington, May 29 (AP)–A small and remote but intense nationalist movement was brought today to the doorstep of President Kennedy, who was away tending to more pressing matters.

Five Pashtoon pickets carried banners in front of the White House protesting: “Stop Pakistan from bombarding Pashtoons with American weapons.”

The homeland of the Pashtoon, or Pakhtun, peoples, lies on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, partly in each country. It is in the Khyber pass area where Pakistani planes often bomb intrusions by Afghan fighting men.

There is so much that I love about this article, beginning with the fact that in 1961 five people picketing outside the White House was somehow considered national news (remember, this was picked up by a Chicago paper). In part, this is demonstrative of where American culture stood at the time. Obviously, the 1960s and 1970s saw a protest culture emerge in the U.S., but in 1961 a protest held by five people could make national news. (The exoticism of the “Pashtoons” and their cause likely also had something to do with this.)

I also can’t help but wonder how the reporter who wrote this piece decided that the topic for his next story would be a protest held by five Pashtuns. Did he walk past the protest and find himself curious about the five men mounting a quixotic protest related to an exotic land? Or did a Pashtun association send a press release around town, hyping a protest which ultimately only five picketers attended?

I also appreciate the archaic rendering of “Pashtoons,” as well as the frank way that the reporter ended the first paragraph, noting that President Kennedy was “away tending to more pressing matters.” President Kennedy was, of course, not one to always spend his time productively. But regardless, the notion that he was tending to more pressing matters at the time is almost certainly the case.


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