Biden administration appoints another Pakistani-American on key position

Dr Asif Mahmood is the second Pakistani-American to have such a key role in any US administration

By
Nasim Haider
Biden administration appoints Pakistani-born US citizen Dr Asif Mahmood as Commissioner USCIRF. — Facebook/@asif4ca/File

The US administration has appointed Pakistani-American Dr Asif Mahmood as a member of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). He is designated as the Commissioner USCIRF.

He is named by US House Minority leader Hakeem Jeffries to the key post. The longtime Democrat, Mahmood is the second Pakistani-American to have such a key role in any US administration.

Earlier, Khizr Khan, a Gold Star father, had served on the Commission from August 2021 to May 2022.

According to a press note issued by the USCIRF, Asif Mahmood is a practising physician, human rights activist, interracial and inter-faith community organiser, and philanthropist. He led the advocacy for many human rights campaigns focused on South Asia. Mahmood was a Delegate for the Democratic National Convention from 2008 to 2016 and held many roles in presidential campaigns. He is also currently the Chair of the Organisation for Social Media Safety (OFSSMS) and Board Member of Hope the Mission, one of the largest homeless shelters in California.

The US commission is an independent, bipartisan government agency which not only issues policy guidelines but also serves as a watchdog.

According to its website, "USCIRF monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad; makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress; and tracks the implementation of these recommendations."

Around the world, the commission is better known for its critical annual report or other publications that highlight the violation of religious freedom. Hence, its reports alarm countries on what policy changes to expect in case of severe transgression.

Currently, the commission is headed by Abraham Cooper while Frederick A. Davie is the Vice Chair. Other members include David Curry, Mohamed Magid (a native of Sudan), Stephen Schneck, Nury Turkel, Eric Ueland and Frank Wolf.

Who is Dr Asif Mahmood

Born to a lower-middle-class family, Mahmood is a true example of a self-made person. He was born in a remote village of Kharian in the province of Punjab. In order to study medicine, he moved to Karachi and graduated from Sindh Medical College (SMC).

Since 1999, Mahmood has been living in Pasadena, a city in the US state of California. Professionally, he is a leading pulmonologist and doctor of internal medicine. During Covid-19, he played a crucial role in devising a strategy to fight the pandemic.

He also serves on the largest medical board in the United States of America. Statewide, Dr Asif is also respected for not asking for payment from those who don’t have health insurance. He believes getting health facilities is the birthright of every person.

Dr Asif has also rendered his services to the philanthropic efforts of UNICEF and many other NGOs.

Political career

In the last 10 years, Dr Asif has also tried his luck in politics. He was the first Pakistani-American who contested for Congress in the last Mid-term elections. He lost to incumbent Young Kim in California District 40 but rubs shoulders with top Democrat leaders and key office bearers.

It became more evident when Vice President Kamal Harris endorsed and advocated for his campaign. As a matter of fact, it was payback as during the presidential election primaries, Mahmood had preferred to support Harris over Joe Biden.

Other admirers include former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who had honored Mahmood by arranging his political event. It was another first-of-its-kind campaign event for any Pakistani American politician.

Others who endorsed him included State governor Gavin Newsom, US Senator Cory Booker, Alex Padilla, Tim Kaine, Bob Menendez and Adam Schiff. A number of US House Representatives including Greg Meeks, Karen Bass, Lou Correa, Pete Aguilar, Ro Khanna, Ami Bera, Jim Costa, Barbara Lee, Tony Cardenas, Jimmy Levin, Judy Chu, Sara Jacobs, Ted Lieu, Alan Lowenthal, Katie Porter, Brad Sherman, Norma Torres and Eleni Kounalakis equally endorsed his candidacy.

Earlier, he had unsuccessfully contested for the Insurance Commissioner of California. Yet, he bagged more votes than any other Muslim-American in the history of the United States of America.

Pakistan connection

Mahmood enjoys good relations with the leaders of major political parties in Pakistan including PTI, PPP, PML-N and PML-Q.

He is a frequent visitor to his homeland. Last year, Mahmood visited Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi where he met Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Faryal Talpur and Governor Sindh Muhammad Kamran Khan Tessori.

Mahmood is also credited for lobbying for the historic Congressional hearing on Kashmir in 2019. The hearing was held after India took illegal and unilateral steps in the Occupied Jammu and Kashmir to change its status.

Mahmood was the only Pakistani-American who testified before the Congress. He said, "Kashmiris are not alone and we will stand with them till each and every one of them get their basic human rights secured."

This is one of the reasons why his appointment as a member of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom will raise eyebrows in New Delhi.