Ankara offered to take over Pak-Turk schools

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks at a news conference with Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz in Islamabad on Tuesday. PHOTO: REUTERS

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks at a news conference with Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz in Islamabad on Tuesday. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has offered Turkey to take over a chain of schools allegedly run by Fateullah Gulen in a move aimed at allaying Ankara’s concerns over the presence of institutions linked with the US-based cleric accused of being behind a recent failed putsch, officials said on Tuesday.

The issue was discussed during talks between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz at the Foreign Office. Cavusoglu also called on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Mamnoon Hussain.

This was the Turkish foreign minister’s first visit to any country following the July 15 failed coup attempt in Turkey which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed on Gulen. Turkey has since been seeking action against Gulen-run schools and other institutions across the globe, including in Pakistan.

Appearing at a joint news conference with Aziz, Cavusoglu minced no words in expressing his concerns over the presence of a Gulen network in Pakistan and other countries.

“It is not a secret that this organisation has institutions or their presence in Pakistan and in many other countries,” he said. “We have to be very careful with such organisations and their causing risk and threat for the security and stability of every country that they have presence in.”

The Turkish foreign minister said his country was taking “all necessary legal measures against the coup plotters, namely the terrorist organisation Feto, headed by Gulen”.

“This terrorist organisation has a global network of schools, business associations and cultural organisations. In the past, we supported them but we didn’t know they had a hidden agenda of trying to take over power in Turkey through such attempts. The first attempt of this group took place in Dec 2013,” he said. “The ‘terror group’ must be taken to task across the world.”

When asked, the Turkish foreign minister said he was satisfied with Pakistan’s cooperation hoping that necessary measures would be taken in this regard.

In his response, Aziz promised to address Turkish government’s concerns but stopped short of saying that the schools would be shut down. “We will try to find an alternative arrangement for the schools to continue whereas their other activities have to be managed or curbed,” he said without elaborating.

A senior Foreign Office official with the knowledge of talks told The Express Tribune that Pakistan has asked Turkish government to identify any entity that could take over Pak-Turk schools in Pakistan.

“There will be change of administration but the schools will not be closed down,” the official clarified while insisting all the teachers and other staff working with the Pak-Turk schools network were not necessarily supporting the Gulen ideology. “And Turkey understands our position,” the official added while requesting not to be identified.

Pakistan, which has historically close ties with Turkey, is under pressure to act against the Gulen-run network of schools in the country. However, the government was in a fix on how to deal with the issue as on the one hand it cannot turn down Turkey’s demand while on the other hand it has to deal with public backlash, particularly from parents whose children are studying at Pak-Turk schools.

“That was the reason we were exploring different options and finally decided to ask the Turkish government to take charge of these schools either directly or through its nominated organisation,” the official said.

According to Reuters, Gulen’s Hizmet movement runs some 2,000 educational establishments in about 160 countries. The Pak-Turk organisation, which has been operating in Pakistan for 21 years and has more than two dozen campuses, denied being part of Gulen’s network.

“We are deeply concerned by allegations … trying to connect the PakTurk International Schools and Colleges in Pakistan with Fethullah Gulen,” it said in a statement. The schools have ‘no affiliation or connection’ with any political or religious organisation, it said.

Meanwhile, the Turkish foreign minister thanked the government of Pakistan, Parliament and people for expressing solidarity with Turkey in the wake of the failed coup plot.

Aziz congratulated Cavusoglu on the successful thwarting of the attempted coup on the night of July 15 and reiterated Pakistan’s unequivocal support for the democratic institutions of Turkey under President Erdogan.

Turning towards other issues, the Turkish foreign minister said his country always stood by Pakistan on the issue of longstanding Kashmir dispute. He said he would request the Organisation of Islamic Conference’s secretary general to send a fact-finding mission to the Indian Kashmir in order to investigate the recent unrest in the valley.

He also lauded the successes achieved by Pakistan, especially through Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the National Action Plan. Cavusoglu and Aziz agreed on the need for intensified efforts in the international fight against terrorism.

Separately, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who extended ‘warmest’ congratulations to the Turkish leadership and the people for their triumph “against an assault on democracy”.

He reaffirmed solidarity with Turkey in its fight against terrorism and expressed deep sympathies and condolences over the loss of precious lives in the terrorist attack at the Ataturk International Airport on June 28.

“Pakistan has also suffered greatly from terrorism. The ongoing military operation Zarb-e-Azb and the National Action Plan have yielded highly positive results. The determination with which we have undertaken the operation has been lauded by the international community, including Turkey, for which we are grateful,” the premier said.

He also expressed confidence that the High Level Strategic Cooperation Council was playing an instrumental role in providing strategic direction to the development of bilateral relationship between the two countries. Nawaz also appreciated Turkey’s steadfast support to Pakistan’s quest for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Cavusoglu expressed gratitude for the solidarity shown by the Pakistani leadership with the government and people of Turkey during the coup attempt.

“Pakistan was one of the first countries to strongly and unequivocally condemn the attempted coup and express support and solidarity for President Erdogan and democracy in Turkey,” he said.

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