King Bhumibol’s Royal State Visits — Pakistan #1164 (2012)

Pakistan - Scott #1164 (2012)
Pakistan – Scott #1164 (2012)

In recent years, there have been a number of stamps issued by other releasing entities bearing Thai topics. Most of these have been joint-issues commemorating anniversaries of diplomatic ties with Thailand. As far as I’ve found out, to date only three nations have released stamps portraying His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX — The Gambia issued two mini-sheets containing a total of nine stamps in late 2016 marking the death of the king while the Philippines commemorated Bhumibol’s July 1963 royal visit there with a three-stamp set released on June 12, 1965 (Scott #928-930, one of which later received a surcharge — Scott #1122).  On May 5, 2012, Pakistan issued a single stamp marking the “50th Anniversary of State Visit of Their Majesties King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit of Thailand to Pakistan” (تھائی لینڈ کے بادشاہ اور ملکہ کے دورئہ پاکستان کی پچاس ویں سالگرہ کے موقع پر یادگاری ڈاک ٹکٹ کا اجرأ). Numbered 1164 by the Scott catalogue, the 8-rupee stamp was designed by D. Adil Salahuddin, printed using offset lithography by Pakistan Security Printing Corporation in Karachi in sheets of 16 stamps and perforated 13.  The stamp was unveiled by Ambassador of Thailand to Pakistan Marwin Tan-Attanawin, who was the chief guest at a function arranged by Pakistan Post to commemorate the royal visit which occurred between March 11 and 22, 1962.

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit with Royal Pakistani Airlines crew in Pakistan, March 1962
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit with Royal Pakistani Airlines crew in Pakistan, March 1962

Although King Bhumibol was born in the United States on December 5, 1927, and his family lived in Siam from 1928 until 1933, he spent most of his youth in Switzerland, where he attended school at the École nouvelle de la Suisse romande in Lausanne. When his childless uncle Prajadhipok abdicated in 1935, his nine-year-old brother Ananda became the new King Rama VIII. However, the family remained in Switzerland and the affairs of the head of state were conducted by a regency council. They returned to Thailand for only two months in 1938. He received the baccalauréat des lettres (high-school diploma with a major in French literature, Latin, and Greek) from the Gymnase Classique Cantonal of Lausanne, and by 1945 had begun studying sciences at the University of Lausanne, when World War II ended and the family was able to return to Thailand.

Bhumibol ascended the throne following the death by gunshot wound of his brother, King Ananda Mahidol, on June 9, 1946, under circumstances that remain unclear. He succeeded his brother, but returned to Switzerland before the end of the 100-day mourning period. Despite his interest in science and technology, he changed his major and enrolled in law and political science to prepare for his duties as head of state. His uncle, Rangsit, Prince of Chainat, was appointed Prince Regent.

In December 1946, the Siamese government allocated several hundred thousand dollars for the ceremonial cremation of the remains of the late King Ananda, a necessary preliminary to the coronation of Bhumibol who was required by religious custom to light the funeral pyre. In November 1947, Prince Rangsit authorized a military coup d’état in Bhumibol’s name that overthrew the government of Thamrongnawasawat. Unsettled conditions following the coup resulted in a postponement of the cremation, and court astrologers determined that March 2, 1949, was the most auspicious date. The regent signed the 1949 constitution, which returned to the monarchy many of the powers it had lost by the 1932 Revolution.

While finishing his degree in Switzerland, Bhumibol visited Paris frequently. It was in Paris that he first met Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara, daughter of the Thai ambassador to France (Nakkhatra Mangala) and a great-granddaughter of King Chulalongkorn and thus a cousin of Bhumibol. She was then 15 years old and training to be a concert pianist.

On October 4, 1948, while Bhumibol was driving a Fiat Topolino on the Geneva-Lausanne road, he collided with the rear of a braking truck 10 kilometers outside Lausanne. He injured his back, suffered paralysis in half of his face and incurred cuts on his face that cost him the sight of his right eye. Both the royal cremation and coronation had to be postponed once more. While he was hospitalized in Lausanne, Sirikit visited him frequently. She met his mother, who asked her to continue her studies nearby so that Bhumibol could get to know her better. Bhumibol selected for her a boarding school in Lausanne, Riante Rive. A quiet engagement in Lausanne followed on July 19, 1949, and they were married on April 28, 1950, just a week before his coronation. The ceremony was performed by Bhumibol’s ageing grandmother, Savang Vadhana.

After presiding over the long-delayed, ceremonial cremation of his brother Ananda Mahidol, Bhumibol was crowned King of Thailand on May 5, 1950 in the Baisal Daksin Throne Hall of the Royal Grand Palace in Bangkok. It was the first coronation ceremony of a Thai sovereign to rule under the system of constitutional monarchy. On Coronation Day, Bhumibol’s consort was made queen (Somdej Phra Boromarajini). The royal couple spent their honeymoon at Hua Hin before they returned to Switzerland, where the king completed his university studies. They returned to Thailand in 1951.

In the early years of his reign, during the government of military dictator Plaek Phibunsongkhram, Bhumibol had no real political power and was little more than a ceremonial figure under the military-dominated government. In August 1957, six months after parliamentary elections, General Sarit Thanarat accused the government of Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram of lèse-majesté due to its conduct of the 2,500th anniversary celebration of Buddhism. On September 16, 1957, Phibun went to Bhumibol to seek support for his government. Bhumibol advised the field marshal to resign to avoid a coup. Phibun refused. That evening, Sarit Thanarat seized power. Two hours later Bhumibol imposed martial law throughout the kingdom. Bhumibol issued a proclamation appointing Sarit as “military defender of the capital” without anyone countersigning the proclamation.

During Sarit’s dictatorship, the monarchy was revitalized. Bhumibol attended public ceremonies, toured the provinces and patronized development projects. The practice of crawling in front of royalty during audiences, banned by King Chulalongkorn, was revived in certain situations and the royal-sponsored Thammayut Nikaya order was revitalized. For the first time since the absolute monarchy was overthrown, a king was conveyed up the Chao Phraya River in a Royal Barge Procession to offer robes at temples.

The monarchy had two main functions under the Sarit government. It increased the regime’s prestige abroad and helped cement regime/elite solidarity through the royal sponsorship of ceremonial and social affairs. The monarchy also contributed to the paternalistic programs of the regime. The throne in this instance acted as an institution for receiving private contributions for charitable work. At the king’s discretion, and with the government’s acquiescence, these funds were channeled to public programs, enhancing the popularity of both the king and the government in the process.

From the start, the Sarit government gave firm support to the throne, hoping to strengthen its own position domestically and internationally. The king represented the “nation” and the Sarit regime emphasized the fact that it was acting in the name of both. Unlike Phibunsongkhram, Sarit was not socially sophisticated in the Western sense. He had been described by the foreign press as a brusque military officer. His English was poor, and he was not as gracious in public as Phibun could be. Because of this, Sarit realized that he would be a poor representative of his government and the country abroad.

King Bhumibol in Pakistan, March 1962
King Bhumibol in Pakistan, March 1962

He turned to the king for help. King Bhumibol had been brought up in Europe and spoke many languages. He also had a very attractive queen who was well-adjusted to the ways of the West. To enhance the prestige of the country and the government, Sarit therefore arranged elaborate visits for the royal couple. These official state visits were carried out by His Majesty in the name of the Thai people, but the government realized that the king’s exposure to the foreign public would minimize foreign criticism of the regime itself for being dictatorial.

Reminiscing about the royal travels, Her Majesty the Queen later revealed that she and the king had never ventured outside of Thailand from the time they’d returned to Thailand from Switzerland on March 7, 1951, until the first of their state visits in 1959. This was because King Bhumibol had made a firm decision to remain as close to his subjects as possible. He had never even thought of vacationing anywhere except within the Kingdom, according to the queen’s memoirs.

The trial exposure of the king to foreign countries was conducted in late 1959 and early 1960. Within those four months, the king and his queen toured three neighboring countries — the Republic of Vietnam (December 18-21, 1959), Indonesia (February 9-16, 1960) and the Union of Burma (March 2-5, 1960). They were well received, and both the international and Thai press gave him very comprehensive coverage. The king’s performance elicited a very favorable domestic reaction. The public and the newspapers expressed price in the monarchy and were happy that the government had given support to the throne.

With these initial successes, Sarit planned an elaborate goodwill tour for the royal couple that would include visits to the major powers of the West. Between mid-June 14, 1960, and mid-January 1961, the king and queen visited fourteen countries: the United States, Great Britain, West Germany, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. By the time of Sarit’s death in 1963, the royal couple had added Pakistan March 11-22, 1962), the Federation of Malaya (June 20-27, 1962), Australia and New Zealand (August 17-September 13, 1962), Japan and the Republic of China (May 27-June 6, 1963), and the Philippines (July 9-14, 1963) to that list. Within a span of just five years, Their Majesties had made state visits to twenty-four countries.

In 1961, King Bhumibol stated,

We would like to thank the people for understanding and supporting our trips… The fact that the people support our trips is most important, for without the acquiescence of the people, we would not have been able to go. These trips are for the interest of the nation. We shall carry out our duties as leaders and bring with us the goodwill of the Thai people to demonstrate to foreigners that we are friends, would like to be friends, and are willing to cooperated with them.

King Bhumibol in Pakistan, March 1962
King Bhumibol in Pakistan, March 1962

The exposure of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit to people around the world was good advertising for the government of Thailand. They left a positive impression of the country, its government and the Thai people. Through them, the foreign public became more aware of Thailand and more ready to believe that the Thais were civilized and sophisticated. Thus, the king accomplished what Sarit could never have done, and Thailand was not so much identified by its “uneducated” government but by the graciousness of its monarch and queen.

Please see my article on this blog about the birth of King Bhumibol for additional details about his first royal visit there in 1960. It is possible to view this tour as an attempt by the Eisenhower administration to help boost the stability of the Sarit regime. This state visit was the most lavish of them all with extensive press coverage. Thailand was emerging as an important ally of the United States in Asia and its apparent that the Eisenhower administration wished to introduce the country to the American public. The king’s visit was a way to play down the repressive character of the Thai government and present Thailand through a more favorable image, that of the attractive royal couple.

His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej with Abdul Wahid Adamjee and M.H Adamjee at Adamjee Jute Mill, East Pakistan in March 1962
His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej with Abdul Wahid Adamjee and M.H Adamjee at Adamjee Jute Mill, East Pakistan in March 1962

Upon the return of the king and queen from their first visit to the United States and Europe in January 1961, the Sarit government prepared one of the largest celebrations ever held in Bangkok. Posters and welcoming signs were erected throughout the capital, and festivities were arranged in many centers. Movies, shows, puppet plays, music and fireworks were exhibited at four main areas in Bangkok, and the public was given the chance to share in welcoming and celebrating the return of their king to the country. This elaborate plan was carried out to help generate public enthusiasm for the throne as well as to indicate to the king himself that the government was willing to support the activities of the monarchy as long as the monarchy reciprocated by reinforcing the government’s authority.

Ten of the twenty-four countries visited during this era were monarchies. King Bhumibol’s trips to these nations served the purpose of creating identifications with European and Asian royalty who in turn reciprocated the visits by coming to Bangkok. Among the list of royalty who visited Thailand following the king’s journeys in 1960 were King Leopold III of Belgium (1963), King Chaosisawangwatthana of Laos (1963), Queen Juliana of the Netherlands (1963), Princess Margrethe of Denmark (1963), King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola of Belgium (1964), and Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King) Putra of Perlis and his queen of Malaysia (1964). Other royal personages continued to come to Thailand including the British royal family in 1972.

After Prime Minister Sarit’s death, King Bhumibol only visited six more countries — the Kingdom of Greece in September 1964 (where the Thai king and queen attended the royal wedding of King Constantine II and Queen Anne-Marie who were married on September 18 — two weeks after Anne-Marie’s 18th birthday — in the Metropolis, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Athens); Austria in October 1964; a second visit to the United Kingdom starting on July 15, 1966, the Imperial State of Iran (April 23-30, 1967), and a visit to United States and Canada beginning June 6, 1967.

The subject of today’s stamp, the state visit to Pakistan from March 11-22, 1962, “is still cherished as a most important milestone in Pakistan-Thailand relations,” according to a statement made by Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif on October 13, 2016, shortly after learning of King Bhumibol’s death:

We are deeply grieved by the sad news of passing away of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. On behalf of the people of Pakistan, my Government and on my own behalf, I offer our most profound condolences to Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, and all members of the Royal Family on the national loss of the most revered Leader…

The people and the Government of Pakistan remain indebted to His Majesty’s generous support to the affected people of 2005 devastating earthquake in Azad Jammu & Kashmir. The relief goods were personally brought to Pakistan, as a very special gesture, by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

As Patron of all Religions in Thailand, His Majesty King Bhumibol, was a symbol of unity and religious harmony. His departure to a life of eternity and peace has deprived the world of a reformist and father of a great Thai nation.

“We pray for the departed soul of His Majesty King Bhumibol that it rests in eternal peace,” he added.

Pakistan - Scott #1153 (2011)
Pakistan – Scott #1153 (2011)
Thailand - Scott #2664 (2011)
Thailand – Scott #2664 (2011)

Pakistan and Thailand first established diplomatic relations in October 1951, the 60th anniversary of which was commemorated in 2011 by a number of events including the released of a joint stamp issue and an exhibition of contemporary art from Pakistan at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC). That was followed by a seminar held in collaboration of the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, titled “Six Decades of Thailand-Pakistan Friendship: Towards Building an Economic Partnership.”

The Pakistani diplomatic mission initially began with a legation at the charge d’affaires level in Bangkok, which was later upgraded to full embassy status. The first ambassador arrived in 1956. The Thai Embassy in Pakistan was established in Karachi, which was Pakistan’s capital at the time (before Islamabad was built).

During their 12-day visit in March 1962, King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit visited the Khyber Pass which runs along the mountainous border of Afghanistan and went to the nearby town of Peshawar in West Pakistan. After making trips to the southern commercial port of Karachi and to other cities, they flew across India to arrive in East Pakistan, where they met with Bengali officials.

This set off a long-standing tradition of visits between the two countries. His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (King Bhumibol’s successor styled as Rama X) has paid three separate visits to Pakistan. In March 2012, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn visited Pakistan as part of the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties. Other high-level visits include that of General Prem Tinsulanonda in 1983 as the Prime Minister of Thailand. In 2002, Prime Minister Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra paid a visit to Pakistan. On the Pakistani side, former president General Zia ul Haq visited Thailand in 1987. Subsequently, General Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz have made official visits.

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