December 12, 2016

Fate of Pak-Turk Schools: Erdogan, JI-backed Maa'rif Foundation?

As the litigation continues over the fate of nearly 450 Turkish nationals, the Nawaz government is determined to go a step further i.e. hand over the school to Maa'rif Foundation, a recently formed body with a mission to push Erdogan's political agenda.

Taking a page from the Turkish leader's playbook, the government has already amended the companies' ordinance in November while the parliament was in session.

One of its amended clause of its section 42 reads, "The commission may at any time by order in writing, revoke a licence granted under sub-section (1) with such direction as it may fit on being satisfied that the company has acted against the interest, sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan, the security of the state and friendly relations with foreign states." The addition of the clause in the amended law aims at including Pak-Turk School on the behest of Erdogan's assertion of its organisers being part of anti-state activities.

The other addition in the amended law has implications for future management of the Pak-Turk Schools. In the section titled 'effects of revocation of licence', it states, "All the assets of the company after satisfaction of all debts and liabilities in a manner, as may be specified, be transferred to another company licensed under section 42, preferably having similar or identical objectives to those of the company, within 90 days from the revocation of the licence or such extended period as may be allowed by the commission."

Erdogan enacted similar laws in Turkey for the state-sponsored AKP-affiliated organisations to take over institutions belonging to charities he did not like. On top of them, all has been Gulen Movement, which the government names as Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation (FETO).

Maa'rif Foundation has already sent 28 personnel to Pakistan who are currently learning English at the National University of Modern Languages. The men are claiming to be the future principals of Pak-Turk School which are far from being official taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood-funded and inspired organisation.

The slips between cup and lips for Maa'rif are multiple. First of all, the schools' management moved the Islamabad High Court in September against likely forcible takeover. The government assured the bench that no such plan was there in the shelf. The matter remains sub judice, thus exempting it from backdoor channels of involuntary reshuffles in its board of directors or amendment in the Companies Act through ordinances.

At the heart of the matter is the question of Maa'rif's credentials to take over the schools instead of its Pakistani management. Turkey is least known for its standard of education. Moreover, the Erdogan-backed organisation is neither experienced in the education field nor apolitical. The question of funding has been funded by certain countries in the Arabian Gulf region, besides some contribution from the Islamic Development Bank.

Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami, being a sister organisation of Erdogan's AKP aspires to chip in running the schools once the control is granted through an executive order by the state.

Parents have feared that the Maa'rif Foundation will have the backing of Ankara and will use the institution for cultivating support amongst youth and the teachers for the Muslim Brotherhood.

What happens if the government changes in Ankara and the necessary political and financial support for the schools is withdrawn? Will the 12,000 or more children look for alternate institutions?

Pakistan's standard of education is far better than Turkey whereby the current system should be allowed to function smoothly. The organisation is already scared with allegation of child sexually abuse in Turkey, where the national press abundantly covered the issue. However, the government looked the other way.

Contrary to the outgoing Turkish staff, the so-called principals rests at the beginner level when it comes to proficiency of English language. The majority of their predecessors could converse in fluent Urdu, besides English while being well-versed with cultural sensitivities here. The Pak-Turk staff were inspired to impart education while the forthcoming ones are being sent by the state as employees-cum-political activists.

Jamaat-e-Islami, the AKP's affiliate in Pakistan, has no track record of establishing successful educational institution in a competitive environment. The JI's-supported management rings the fear of children being driven to its student arm, Islami Jamiat-e-Tulba. After two decades, the country's educational institutions have been freed from the grip of IJT. The government is setting a dangerous precedent by dishing out established institutions to a political party.

While over 100 Turkish teachers fight their legal battle in the courts, the schools can smoothly function under the Pakistani management. After all, partly Pakistani philanthropists alongside the Gulen-minded Turkish citizens funded the schools.

Published on Daily Times, 12 December 2016, Monday