ISLAMABAD: Ahead of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Pakistan, the interior ministry has asked the Turkish staff of Pak-Turk schools and colleges to leave the country by Nov 20.

The management of the educational network on Tuesday expressed concern over the “abrupt move” and assured the students and parents involved that it stood firmly against any proposal for “ingress of some other organisation into the teachers and staff of the schools”.

A senior official of the interior ministry said the visas of the educational chain’s staff had been cancelled and that letters had been sent to them on Sunday, informing them that they had only one week to leave the country.

The decision was in line with the advice of the foreign affairs ministry.

The number of teachers and other Turkish staff in the chain’s 28 schools and colleges stood at 108 and the total number of their family members at about 400, the official said.

In August, Pakistan had promised Turkey’s visiting Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu that it would look into affairs of the chain Ankara wanted to be closed for its alleged links with US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

During his visit, Mr Çavusoglu had said: “It is not a secret that Gulen’s organisation has institutions... in Pakistan and in many other countries. 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 [where] they have presence.”

The network of Pak-Turk schools and colleges was launched in 1995 under an international NGO registered with the Turkish government. “Initially, funding was made from Turkey to establish modern campuses in Pakistan. But for the last 15 years or so the chain has been generating its own funds here, offering free education and boarding facilities to 35 per cent of the students, besides awarding foreign scholarships to them,” the official said.

The chain’s 28 schools and colleges are functioning in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Multan, Karachi, Hyderabad, Khairpur, Jamshoro and Quetta. Some 11,000 students, of pre-school to ‘A’ Level ages, are studying there.

In the second week of August, the management of the chain removed the Turkish principals of their 28 schools and colleges and also dissolved the board of directors which had representation from Turkish nationals.

The drastic move was seen as an attempt to thwart the likely handing over of the chain to any organisation by the government. According to sources, the Turkish government had suggested that the network be handed over to an international NGO having inks with the Erdogan administration.

The management had also filed petitions in the Islamabad and Lahore high courts, seeking judicial orders to stop the Pakistani government from taking any “unlawful step which would compromise the future of the students”, or to maintain the status quo.

Parents of the students say withdrawal of the faculty and change of management will adversely affect standards at the educational institutions.

Last month, the foreign affairs ministry had informed the Islamabad High Court that the government was not going to shut down the institutions and that it had not received any request from the Turkish government for the transfer of their management to a third party.

The petition had been filed in the court amid speculation related to the closure or transfer of the 28 institutions from the current Pak-Turk Education Foundation, allegedly linked to Mr Gulen, to the “pro-President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Maarif Foundation”. In its written comments, the ministry had said that “demand from any quarter to close the Pak-Turk Education Foundation has not been received”.

Our Staff Reporter in Lahore adds: In a statement, the management of the chain expressed concern over the government’s abrupt decision which required “the Turkish teachers, management and their family members numbering approximately 450 individuals, including school-going children, infants and ladies, to leave the country within three [working] days — an extraordinary time constraint— in consequence of non-approval of their requests for extension of visa”.

“We are in touch with the [relevant] authorities and are constantly assessing the situation, relying on the commitment of the Government of Pakistan’s concerned authorities through their written comments filed before the Honourable Islamabad High Court that they do not intend to take any adverse action against the Pak-Turk International Schools & Colleges across Pakistan,” the statement said.

“We also take this opportunity to alleviate the apprehensions of the students and their parents regarding ingress of some other organisation into the teachers and staff of the schools and ensure them of our firm stance against any such design or move.”

The statement added that the management and the expatriate staff reserved the right to invoke the jurisdiction of a competent forum or court against the decision of non-extension of visa and exit orders.

Published in Dawn November 16th, 2016


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