ISLAMABAD: Pakistan promised Turkey's visiting foreign minister on Tuesday it would investigate a network of schools Ankara wants shut for alleged links to the US-based Muslim cleric it blames for last month's coup attempt.
However, foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz stopped short of agreeing to close PakTurk International Schools and Colleges, which educates 10,000 students and denies any affiliation with the cleric.
The request by Turkey is part of an international campaign by President Tayyip Erdogan against the interests of Fethullah Gulen and his religious movement.
Erdogan and the Turkish authorities blame the cleric and his followers for orchestrating last month's failed military coup, in which more than 230 people were killed.
Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, preaches Sunni Islam together with a message of interfaith dialogue.
He denies any involvement in the failed coup.
Since then, thousands of people have been detained, suspended from work or placed under investigation, with the government vowing to purge the army, police and judiciary of elements it says support Gulen.
In Islamabad, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu said Gulen's “terrorist group” should be stamped out.
“It is not secret that this organisation has institutions or their presence in Pakistan and in many other countries,” he said.
“I am sure the necessary measures will be taken. 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.”
Aziz congratulated Turkey for its “victory for democracy and liberty” and said Pakistan would look into the schools but hoped to keep them open as they were well managed and provided good education.
“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.
Turkey and Pakistan have traditionally had close ties, which have warmed further under the leadership of Erdogan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Turkey has applied pressure to other countries that are home to Gulen-backed institutions.
Gulen's Islamist “Hizmet” movement runs some 2,000 educational establishments in about 160 countries. The PakTurk 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 Mr Fethullah Gulen,” it said in a statement.
The schools had “no affiliation or connection” with any political or religious organisations, it said.
The Turkish FM said Ankara had Pakistan's "full cooperation" on taking action against what Turkey calls the Fethullah Terror Organisation (Feto).
Addressing a joint press conference alongside Aziz in Islamabad, Çavuşoğlu said:
"In my opening statement I expressed my satisfaction and appreciation that we have full cooperation with Pakistan in that regard, and I'm sure the necessary measures will be taken."
The Turkish foreign minister said Ankara was taking "all necessary legal measures against the plotters of the coup, namely the terrorist organisation Feto, headed by Fethullah 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, that they were trying to take over power in Turkey through such attempts. The first attempt of this group took place in Dec 2013," he said, adding that the 'terror group' must be fought all over the world.
Responding to a question regarding the Kashmir issue, Çavuşoğlu said Turkey "fully supports" Pakistan's position, and asked the OIC Secretary General to mobilise the OIC Contact Group and send a fact-finding mission to India-held Kashmir.
"We believe this dispute can be solved only through dialogue and diplomacy, not violence or using force," he said.
During an earlier meeting with Sartaj Aziz, Çavuşoğlu said both sides discussed methods to increase cooperation and are "hoping to sign a free trade agreement this year".
The Turkish foreign minister said he had informed Aziz "how we are normalising our relations with Russia and Israel", and also discussed regional issues, particularly ties with Afghanistan, and said Turkey would continue supporting reconciliation efforts in the region.