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Pak-Turk schools saga

Updated November 17, 2016

Turkey's President Erdogan is a welcome and honoured guest to Pakistan this week and we hope his visit will deepen investment and development ties between the two countries.

However, his visit has coincided with a controversial decision taken by the government here: the Pak-Turk Education Foundation’s Turkish staff and their families have been given three days to leave the country, causing the foundation’s management to move court against the orders.

The Pak-Turk schools are administered by a foundation linked to Fethullah Gulen, once an ally of Mr Erdogan. However, since July’s abortive coup attempt, the Turkish leadership has blamed Mr Gulen for sponsoring the overthrow attempt, resulting in a global crackdown on the religious and educational network led by him.

While the coup attempt in Turkey may or may not have been instigated by Mr Gulen, Islamabad’s arbitrary decision is uncalled for. There are thousands of Pakistani children who have benefited from these schools since the 1990s, and there are thousands who will now suffer if their teachers are sent home.

True, there is nothing wrong with closer government scrutiny if it is felt that teaching methods or the syllabus content is flawed. But the sudden move to issue marching orders, and that too on the eve of Mr Erdogan’s visit, smacks of intentions that may have nothing to do with the quality of teaching or education.

There are two aspects to the unfortunate situation that must be highlighted.

First, while the coup attempt in Turkey was an event that was justifiably condemned by all those who believe in democracy, the Turkish government’s response has been unduly severe in several aspects, including the pressure on Pakistan to close down the schools.

Pakistan would have done well to dispassionately assess the situation, especially because it concerned the fate of so many students who might have been worse off in other schools, given the overall state of education here.

Second, many among the staff now being asked to leave have been working in these schools for several years. They had no visa issues previously, and there was not even a hint of their being linked to any illegal activity. Many have now voiced concerns they might be victimised by Turkish authorities on their return.

It would be better then for Pakistan and Turkey to see this issue as one impacting the studies of thousands of boys and girls, and address it keeping in mind the future of these students.

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2016