City of Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan’s first two years in office were clouded by controversies involving her relationship with foreign governments. In her latest public drama, Irvine’s first Muslim mayor was granted a personal audience with Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Masood Khan, who members of Congress have described as a “bona fide terrorist sympathizer” that “clearly supports terrorists.”
Covered by Pakistani media, the January 18 meeting was held at the Consulate General of Pakistan in Los Angeles. The pair discussed strengthening economic linkages between Irvine and Pakistan through startup ventures in artificial intelligence and meditech. The exchange ended with the ambassador inviting Ms. Khan to visit Pakistan at the head of a business delegation.
Despite the unremarkable nature of the visit, Ms. Khan’s meeting stands to alienate members of Irvine’s Indian and Hindu American communities.
“It is deeply disturbing to see the mayor of an American city meeting with a foreign diplomat who has a track record of publicly demonstrating support for U.S.-designated terrorist organizations,” said Samir Kalra, Managing Director of Policy and Programs at the Hindu American Foundation (HAF).
“Just last year,” Kalra continued, “an interfaith and interethnic coalition led by HAF raised serious concerns about the appointment of Ambassador Masood Khan to Secretary of State Antony Blinken for his reported links and support for Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen.”
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence founded both organizations to carry out kidnappings, bombings, and assassinations in the Kashmir Valley. From 1989-1990, they were responsible for a campaign of ethnic cleansing targeting Kashmiri Pandits, 500,000 of which fled their ancestral homes in the face of violence and intimidation.
Yet, Pakistan’s ambassador has worked with or endorsed both jihadist groups. In his previous post as president of Azad Kashmir, Masood Khan offered “full support to Hizb-ul-Mujahideen” after the U.S. designated it as a terrorist organization. He also offered praiseworthy eulogies to slain fighters from the militant group.
In 2019, Masood Khan attended a conference in Islamabad where he shared a stage with Harkat-ul-Mujahideen founder Fazlur Rehman Khalil, a close associate of Osama Bin Laden and a specially designated terrorist under U.S. law.
The ambassador also supports extreme anti-India groups based in America. For example, Masood Khan has showered Islamist charities such as Helping Hand for Relief and Development with unabashed praise, despite its documented partnership with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terrorist outfit responsible for the bloody 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 186 innocent civilians.
Besides Farrah Khan, the ambassador’s American associates include a radical Kashmiri separatist group that has coordinated anti-India lobby activities with Pakistani government officials. He even used his political influence to lobby for the release of “Lady Al Qaeda” Aafia Siddiqui, a cause célèbre for jihadists around the world.
These connections, which only scratch the surface of the ambassador’s radical partnerships, compelled three U.S. Congress members to send letters to the Biden administration – first calling for the White House to reject Masood Khan’s appointment, and later asking for a Justice Department probe of his terrorist links.
Ms. Khan did not respond to questions about her audience with the ambassador. However, her meeting was just the latest incident in which Irvine’s senior elected official has found herself caught up in contentious foreign conflicts.
Going back to her time as an Irvine city councilor, Ms. Khan has firmly aligned herself with a trio of allied, Muslim-majority countries whose policies and values are often at odds with America and the West. These countries – Azerbaijan, Pakistan, and Türkiye – have historically targeted certain ethnic and national groups living abroad – including groups with large communities represented in Irvine.
In 2019, then-city councilor Khan was investigated for visiting Azerbaijan in a trip paid for by its government. During her 2020 mayoral campaign, she took money from a Political Action Committee that is funded by foreign agents of Türkiye and suspected Turkish government proxies.
Following her election as mayor, Ms. Khan established an advisory committee that included two Turkish American activists known for lobbying against recognition of the Armenian Genocide, the widely-acknowledged massacre of around 1.5 million ethnic Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. When a video surfaced showing one of these activists joking with Ms. Khan about making Armenians “disappear,” the mayor was forced to return his donations and remove the pair from her advisory committee.
Later, the mayor told the Orange County Register that she makes a habit of wading into sensitive foreign policy matters.
“I think it’s a little disheartening,” the mayor said of the backlash over the video. “I think I’ve been in the middle of conflicts before – from India and Pakistan, from Palestine and Israel – and I’ve never had the community react this way to me,” she said.
Yet, she was the only city councilor to speak out against a November 2020 resolution that acknowledged “violence” experienced by ethnic Armenians during a war with Azerbaijan and Türkiye. Her reasoning?
“I don’t feel that it is our job to interfere in international affairs,” she said at the time, adding, “Our job is to make sure we are united as a community and not cause further divisions.”
Unless, that is, those “international affairs” happen to involve her favorite foreign actors.
As a Pakistani American, Ms. Khan is known to pander to a local organization that claims to represent her South Asian community but that closely coordinates its activities with Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry. To discredit Pakistan’s adversaries, the Council of Pakistan (COP) has produced press releases calling Indian Kashmir “the world’s biggest concentration camp,” while deploring “demon-inspired” Armenian protestors demonstrating outside the Azerbaijani consulate in Los Angeles.
COP is known to sponsor a semi-annual gathering of the mayor’s international allies. The Azerbaijan-Pakistan-Türkiye Brotherhood Celebration brings together the consul generals from each nation and their most loyal American supporters. The event provides a platform by which the foreign powers can collectively vilify their geopolitical rivals on an American stage.
Naturally, Ms. Khan attended the trilateral conference in 2019, where speakers denounced “human rights abuses in the Kashmir,” and Armenia’s “cultural and ethnic cleansing” against Azerbaijan, which would invade Artsakh and carry out a genuine campaign of ethnic cleansing just months later. The Azerbaijani government selectively edited most of the mayor’s comments out of a video highlighting the event.
Facing a term limit, Mayor Khan has even less incentive to maintain harmony between Irvine’s diverse ethnic and religious communities. Her latest rendezvous with Masood Khan, patron to South Asia’s most notorious terrorist entities, belies a stark indifference to the concerns of her constituents – at least those who do not subscribe to her pan-Islamic allegiances.
Irvine residents of every community are encouraged to contact Mayor Khan by email: FarrahKhan@CityofIrvine.org; or by phone: 949-724-7600. Tell the mayor you stand opposed to partnerships with foreign governments and their American boosters that divide the city and exacerbate communal tensions.
Benjamin Baird is the Director of MEF Action, a project of the Middle East Forum.