Pakistan and Turkey have long enjoyed the warmest of relations. There are no disputes and relations have continued in an equable and mutually supportive manner for decades. A large rock has now been thrown in this otherwise still pool, and the failed coup in Turkey on July 15 has had effects that have now reached our shores. There are 23 schools and colleges in Pakistan run by the PakTurk charity. They have 11,000 students enrolled and employ 1,500 teachers and the Turkish government now wants Pakistan to close them down, mainly because the charity that runs them is affiliated to the US-based cleric, Fatehullah Gulen, who Turks regard as the architect of the plot to overthrow the elected government.
This presents something of a problem. There do not appear to be any reports thus far that the Gulen-supported schools in Pakistan were in any way linked to the attempted coup, and it would be difficult to see why they would be. There are reports that Turkey had been in informal talks with Pakistan for three months before the attempted coup as to the status of the schools, and it is further reported that an agreement has now been reached that the Maarif Foundation will take over the PakTurk institutions. The Maarif Foundation is a subsidiary of the Turkish government. With the Turkish foreign minister visiting Pakistan, there are indications that the issue of the closure of the institutions will be at the forefront. This demand must be treated with caution, and it is not for Pakistan to have what amounts to an internal matter determined by an external power. There is no justification to stop a registered NGO conducting its lawful business, which is probably why the Punjab chief minister has not moved in response to the Turkish demand. The lives and educational futures of thousands of students is going to be negatively affected, jobs are going to be lost. The charity that runs the schools has been operating for 21 years with no complaints thus far, and Pakistan must take careful cognisance before making any precipitate move.