While the current controversy surrounding the Pak-Turk schools is indeed a delicate matter, involving bilateral relations with a friendly country, the fate of the Pakistani schoolchildren studying in these institutions should be the primary concern of the authorities. The interior ministry issued marching orders on Nov 14 to the Turkish staff of the schools — said to be linked to self-exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen — ahead of Turkish President Erdogan’s visit to this country last month. Once an ally of Mr Gulen, the Turkish president now blames the US-based cleric for masterminding the July coup, a charge Mr Gulen denies. Caught in the middle of this high political drama are the Pak-Turk schools; the Turkish foreign minister asked Pakistan to close the institutions in August. However, on Friday the Sindh High Court suspended the deportation of the schools’ Turkish staff; the high courts of KP and Punjab have similarly stayed the deportation of Turkish faculty. It is hoped the case of the affected staff is considered sympathetically and that there is least disruption in the students’ academic activities.
While it is inadvisable for Pakistan to get involved in Turkey’s internal politics, and while we value the warm relationship between Ankara and Islamabad, clearly, the matter of the Pak-Turk schools has been mishandled by the government. Ordering Turkish staff out of the country simply to please the Turkish leadership was not right. Surely, if any institution is believed to be involved in illegality, the state has a right to investigate. But there is no evidence the schools were involved in subversive activities; if anything, they had earned a reputation for commitment to educational excellence. The government displayed similar haste in the past when cracking down on international NGOs. If officialdom continues to treat foreign organisations working in the social sector so shabbily, few will want to function in such an environment. The government should work with the Turkish leadership to reach an acceptable solution that would allow the Turkish teachers to continue with their good work.
Published on Dawn, 5 December 2016, Monday