The recent government decision of cancelling visas of Turkish teachers affiliated with the Pak-Turk schools, run by the clandestine Turkish preacher Fetullah Gülen, was long overdue. That it took a Turkish presidential visit to galvanise our government reveals a culture of inaction that permeates the official corridors. Nevertheless, it is a welcome step and in the right direction.
108 Turkish teachers asked to leave Pakistan within three days
Popularly known by the nom de guerre Hoja Effendi among his cult, Gülen - despite espousing a palatable version of Islam - has long been accused of re-engineering state structures in Turkey and elsewhere and subverting popular will through a religiously-sanctioned fraud, manipulation and intimidation. And when everything failed to produce the desired result, he instigated a military coup to oust a democratically-elected government – a charge supported both by the Turkish government as well as the opposition. Despite his consistent and long denials of any transgression coupled with a stream of unyielding support issued in his favour from various quarters of subterfuge such as former US spy masters, dodgy neo-cons and known western media producers of Islamophobia, there is an overwhelming public demand in Turkey to summon him and his vast empire of institutions which include schools, academies, tax-dodging business houses and media platforms to deep scrutiny.
While a majority of Pakistanis remain supportive of their government’s action and its support for Turkey in its fight against parallel structures, there has been a deliberate and a series of unsavoury attempts to spoil the atmosphere while the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was in Pakistan with an aim to manipulate the outcome in favour of the Gülenists. The unquestionable and uncritical support for Gülen by a section of Pakistani media, miming the ideologically-driven Western narrative against Turkey, depicts torpid attitudes and a willingness to advance a borrowed rhetoric ad verbum without any need to appreciate it through a local or regional nuance. Such a posture feeds this oft-repeated notion of lack of agency and critical thinking in Pakistan. The level of this anti-Turkey narrative may not reflect the fury of its Euro-American counterparts but it certainly matches the patterns of consistency and exigency.
Despite pressure, Pak-Turk schools won’t be shut
Several news reports wrongfully created an impression as if the schools were being closed. Some doomsayers suggested the future of Pakistani students was in jeopardy in absence of their Turkish teachers, inadvertently advancing the notion that Pakistani teachers who taught alongside their foreign counterparts were not good enough for the job. One newspaper editorial prophesied the decision was “at the cost of thousands of Pakistani schoolchildren’s educational future” - a blurb several other commentators wrongfully alluded to. In a rush to demonise Turkey while simultaneously seeking vengeance against the Nawaz Sharif government, it was conveniently forgotten that the schools had opened with active support of the Turkish government and that while the current management is ousted for reasons beyond Pakistani government’s control, Maarif Foundation - a recently formed state-funded administration - was taking over without any loss of time for the students.
Despite a non-issue in the matrix of bilateral relations, the revocation of visas was afforded a disproportionate media focus. In comparison, President Erdoğan’s unequivocal support to Pakistan and Kashmiris attracted scant attention and soon fell off the news charts to make way for more negative news about Turkey. Equally, the news about the finalisation of a free trade agreement between the two countries and its attendant collateral in form of investments and collaborations in service industry was treated as a dud. The trade agreement will not only improve the streams of wealth generation and job creation but also help in easing out chronic energy shortages as Turkey plans to invest in the fields of solar and wind power.
It is peculiar that many of the Pakistani voices that are bating for Gülen’s innocence while questioning the government’s rationale of deporting his teachers have mostly been supporters of curbing the activities of Pakistani religious schools for their alleged role in fomenting various kinds of militant activities – from outright terrorism to sectarianism – without any demands for empirical evidence that could stand the scrutiny of trial courts. Equally, there has been little or muted response to previous reports of security forces arresting students and teachers from Pakistani educational campuses for their alleged involvement in terrorism.
Ankara offered to take over Pak-Turk schools
While Turkey and Pakistan face similar challenges – foreign-funded terrorism with deep local signatures, attempts to derail democracy using an assortment of tools from fielding outside clerics to creating misunderstanding between civilian and military structures - their narratives and approaches differ. In the post-coup Turkey, people of all persuasions - from secularists to Islamists - have come together to support the state against a parallel structure that was conspiring to subvert their will. It is not the case in Pakistan which remains divided in its path of action against terrorists of every ilk, from sectarian to linguistic outfits, secessionist groups to religious fanatics. That is why Pakistan continues to be vulnerable and its trajectory is laden with indefinable variables. While it may not be prudent for Pakistan to emulate Turkish prescriptions for countering terrorism or internal dissent, the Pakistani state must come up with a focused narrative and an action plan to deal with its challenges - both domestic and foreign - with clarity and determination.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Express Tribune.
Murtaza Shibli is a journalist, author and communications and security specialist. He keeps shuttling between London, Lahore and Srinagar, Kashmir. He tweets @murtaza_shibli
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