Developments about the takeover of Pak-Turk schools in Pakistan by a Turkish government-backed organisation Turkiye Maarif Foundation (TMF) have been in the news for quite some time. These schools were founded under the Pak-Turk International Cag Education Foundation (PTICEF) and the first one was set up in Islamabad back in 1995. Today there are 28 Pak-Turk schools in different cities that cater to the educational needs of students belonging to families falling in different income brackets. Some branches charge modest fees from students, others impart completely subsidised education to the deserving.
The latest is that these schools have been formally taken over by TMF and their Turkish founders declared part of a terrorist organisation by the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP). Run with the support of exiled Turkish scholar and preacher Fethullah Gulen’s Hizmet Movement, these schools became a target of the Erdogan government a couple of years ago. President Erdogan, who himself has remained a follower of Gulen in the past, got estranged when he and his family members were subjected to severe criticism by the followers of Hizmet movement for their alleged involvement in corruption and abuse of power.
Soon there were counter-allegations against Gulen for conspiring against the Erdogan government and trying to bring it down. Furthermore, Gulen Movement, so far known world over as a social movement, was officially branded Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO) and a witch-hunt against its followers started at a large scale. The worst was yet to come; the onslaught against Gulen’s followers entered into top gear after the failed coup in Turkey in June 2016. Erdogan announced it had been carried out at the instigation and with the support of Gulen.
The decision to hand over Pak-Turk schools to TMF has disturbed teachers, students, parents as well as the Pakistani administrators who were managing these schools. In collective statements issued after the court verdict, they have appealed to the apex court to review its decision on grounds that the schools were presently being managed by local Pakistanis and therefore should not have been linked with any foreign organisation. They shared that the old boards of these schools had recently been dissolved and new ones formed comprising only Pakistanis.
A common concern of these groups was that declaring the original founders terrorists would bring a bad name to the students who have been enrolled at these schools for years and this blot would continue to haunt them during their careers. They also rejected the idea of handing the schools to TMF, an organization that was hardly two years old and had no expertise at all, formed with just the objective to usurp private schools.
Against this background, there is some discussion on the merits of declaring PTICEF a proscribed organisation and the fallouts of this decision. A former member of the organisation points out that under Section 11B of the Anti-Terrorism Act, may list an organisation as a proscribed organisation if there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is involved terrorism, owned or controlled, directly by any individual or organisation proscribed under this Act; or acting on behalf of any individual or organisation proscribed under this Act. In this case, he says, it seems the court has ceded to a foreign country’s request instead of asking for reasonable grounds as mentioned in this clause.
He says the demand has been there since 2015 when countries like Azerbaijan, Gabon and Senegal shut down such schools but Pakistani government has somehow dragged the issue. But this time the decision has come from the SCP and the concerned quarters had to act.
On the other hand, Sohail Sajid Advocate, who had filed a constitutional petition in SCP in this respect, believes there was enough ground for the apex court to pass this order. His point is that the affiliate of an organisation declared terrorist in Turkey also falls in the same category here. His stance finds support in the form of the order passed by the three-member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Faisal Arab and Justice Ijazul Ahsan. It states: “We are in no manner of doubt the government of Pakistan has international obligations towards the government of Turkey to declare Fethullah’s Terrorist Organisation (FETO) as a terrorist organisation.”
Following the court order, there are many concerns among teachers and other related staff of these schools. Their salaries have not been paid as the accounts have been frozen and they fear they would be laid off by the new management. This is despite the fact that TMF management has announced it will not victimise anybody.
A senior teacher of a Pak Turk school branch in Lahore tells TNS that many countries have rejected the idea of handing over of these schools to the TMF. Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, all the European countries and many countries in the Americas have rejected the proposal of the Turkish government.
It may not be a co-incidence that such developments often take place when there is an outbound high profile visit due or some dignitary is visiting in the country. This time it was Prime Minister Imran Khan visiting Turkey where the act of declaring Gulen’s organisation terrorist was appreciated by the Turkish leadership. In fact, it all started much before that. The SCP accepted the petition filed by Sohail Sajid advocate on December 13, 2018, days ahead of CJP Saqib Nisar’s scheduled visit to Turkey on the special invitation of Turkey’s Constitutional Court’s president.
TMF was founded under a law passed by the Turkish Grand National Assembly on June 28, 2016 and with seed money of 1 million Turkish liras (around $ 330,000) from the budget of the Ministry of National Education. However, despite being managed by the Turkish government-appointed and financed administrators and advisors, TMF promotes itself as an NGO worldwide — something which is being criticised as well.