The expulsion of over 100 Turkish staff from a network of Turkish-backed schools has sparked controversy and put the future of more than 11,000 students at stake, parents, teachers and senior students said.
Pakistan ordered 108 teachers and managers employed by Pak-Turk International Schools to leave the country on November 17, following a visit to Islamabad by Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They were given 72 hours to leave the country.
The schools have been under threat of closure since July because of allegations they are influenced by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen’s movement, the group alleged to be behind a failed coup attempt against Erdogan’s government on July 15.
The schools’ Board of Directors has expressed concern over the expulsion order. A statement from board chairman, Alamgir Khan, denied any link to other organisations.
“We also take this opportunity to alleviate the apprehensions of the students and their parents regarding ingress of some alien organization into the teachers and staff of the schools and ensure them of our firm stance against any such design or move,” Khan’s statement said.
Expelled staff had to leave with their families, bringing to 450 the number of people expelled under the order. Some had been living in Pakistan for 20 years, a senior staff member said.
“We are at the mercy of God. Our lives are under threat. If we go to Turkey, we will be jailed straight away. Some of us might be executed too. It seems Erdogan is paranoid after the failed-coup,” the staff member told Truth Tracker, requesting not to be named.
Pak-Turk International Schools and Colleges were set up by an international Turkish non-government organization, the Pak-Turk International Cag Educational Foundation (PakTurk ICEF). The first PTIS school in Islamabad opened in 1995.
The schools were initially meant to educate Afghan refugees. With the passage of time, they became a successful venture. Currently, the Pak-Turk Education Foundation has 26 schools across Pakistan.
They teach nearly 11,000 students, employ 1500 teachers and more than 100 Turkish staff. The Foundation has been delivering education from preschool to grade 12 according to Pakistani law and curriculum for the last 21 years.
“We fear the Turkish government will try to take over these schools. Parents are worried. There will be no worry if the system continues, but now we are hearing that the schools will be handed over to an organization working under the current Turkish government set up,” Amir Abdullah, president of the Parents Association of PTIS, told Truth Tracker.
“If the Turkish government takes over these schools, for sure, it will be partisan and will affect the base of the ideology behind these schools. Also it will be against the local law,” Adbullah added.
“We will resist any such plan of transferring the management of the schools to another Turkey based international non-governmental organization (NGO) under Turkish government influence.”
Abdullah urged the government to revise its decision, saying the expulsion of so many staff would force thousands students to move to other schools.
The Turkish government has been pressing the government of Pakistan since July to either close down these schools or remove the current management.
The pressure on Islamabad and other countries to close down or take action against the schools that support the Gulen movement is part of Erdogan’s global campaign of chasing his opponents. Since then, the Turkish government has jailed thousands of suspected Gulen supporters and sacked thousands from jobs for their alleged links to the Gulen movement.
Initially Turkey’s foreign minister visited Islamabad after the failed coup-attempt and urged the Pakistani government to close down the Pak-Turk schools network and expel Turkish staff.
However, the move was widely resisted by parents, students and teachers. Even Islamabad High Court directed the government not to close down schools. On August 1, a high level Turkish delegation again visited Pakistan, pressing Islamabad to support Ankara’s global crackdown against Gulen’s movement and his supporters and close down the schools.
The PTIS deny the Turkish government’s allegation the network is linked to Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, currently in exile in the USA and a former ally of the ruling AK Party.
“We have no link to this failed coup or this movement. We do not teach extremism and terrorism and we have not produced any terrorist from these schools,” the Turkish staff said.
“However, liking an ideology is not crime and it does not mean that you do whatever that movement wants. We just impart quality and moderate education.”
Amnesty International said Pakistani children would be most hurt by the expulsion.
“With 24 million Pakistani children out of school, Pakistan’s decision to expel teachers from the Pak-Turk International Schools and Colleges will only hurt Pakistan’s children,” Amnesty’s South Asia Director Champa Patel said in a statement, issued after the crackdown against the PTIS.
She said, “What the country needs is more classrooms and more teachers, not a politically-motivated decision to purge educators at the behest of the Turkish government.”
A H Nayyer, a researcher and former professor of Quaid e Azam University Islamabad, told Truth Tracker, “Ideally, Pakistan should have conducted an independent inquiry to evaluate the Erdogan Government’s allegations that the PTIS are promoting fundamentalism.” It’s a strange action by Pakistan since plenty of local schools and religious seminaries in Pakistan are spreading extremism and fundamentalism but no action has been taken against them, he added.
Published on News Lens Pakistan, 8 December 2016, Saturday