Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his meeting with mukhtars at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey. Photo: Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace/ handout via Reuters
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his meeting with mukhtars at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey. Photo: Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace/ handout via Reuters

Turkish President Recap Erdogan has incarcerated thousands as part of his continued push plan to reconstitute Turkey as a presidential system. The plan would create a centralized system that enables him to better tackle Turkey’s internal and external threats. One of the main hurdles allegedly standing in his way is Fethullah Gulen’s movement, which has a strong base in and out of Turkey that interferes with Erdogan’s political objectives.

While thousands remain imprisoned in Turkey, citizens outside Turkey are also stated to feel the pinch. Whether it’s the Turkish military personnel serving at NATO bases seeking asylum or the staff of the Pak-Turk foundation’s schools in Pakistan being forced out of Pakistan due to their linkages with Gulen, numerous people fear political persecution.

Turkish media estimates that 60 people have sought asylum in Germany since the failed July 15 coup in Turkey, including family members of personnel stationed at Ramstein. While German officials have said they would grant asylum to Turkish citizens if they felt they were being targeted for political reasons, the Pakistan government has ordered Turkish nationals to leave the country immediately.

A recent report in Turkey’s pro-government Sabah newspaper has warned of a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and a number of European capitals after Turkish military attaches opted not to return to Ankara after a recall.

Out of 30 attaches who failed to return, 18 have obtained medical reports deeming them unfit to travel, the newspaper reported. It said most of the health reports stated depression, backache and a common cold as reasons preventing travel. The newspaper said these attaches who serve in various European capitals including Berlin, Vienna, Brussels and Rome were summoned to testify in regard to the Gulen movement.

Pakistan’s decision has a lot to do with the special relations Pakistan’s ruling family has with Turkey’s Erdogan. This particular decision, however, has generated questions about Pakistan’s willingness to become a party in Erdogan’s political fight against a ‘threat’ he said was as dangerous for Pakistan as Daesh (ISIS) or any other terrorist organization.

While Erdogan’s administration had been asking for these schools’ closures since the coup attempt, the fact that the demand was fulfilled during his visit to Pakistan appears to be a Pakistani attempt to appease the neo-Ottoman, self-styled, caliph.

Although Pakistan had initially tried to de-link these orders from Erdogan’s visit, Erdogan did pay his “regards” during his address to the parliament to Pakistan for taking action the Gulen-network, and spoke at length about how ‘dangerous’ this organization could be.

Warning of the threat that Gulen might pose to Pakistan and other countries where his movement has presence, Erdogan stated that “We are in the process of warning all of our friends and countries across the globe with whom we have solidarity” against Feto, stating further “It is now certain that behind the coup attempt we have the Galenist terrorist organization and its leader residing in Pennsylvania.”

“It is necessary to dismantle this evil network … The terrorist organization is a threat to the security and public order of Pakistan,” he claimed.

The Turkish president claimed Feto “has been hiding behind the facade of acceptable concepts and terms such as delivering service, education and dialogue … But we saw on July 15 that they would not refrain from any methods, including bloodshed to gain their purposes.”

“I wholeheartedly believe that this terrorist organization will be eliminated as soon as possible without harming brotherly Pakistan. I appreciate the recent decisions taken by the Pakistani government in this direction, and I thank you for your strong support in our fight against Feto,” he further said.

The decision was made regardless of the fate of the numerous students enrolled in the schools, who might have been worse off in other schools.

According to reports, the staff had no previous visa issues, and there was not even a hint of linkage to illegal activity. Yet upon receiving orders from Pakistan, many have now voiced concerns they might be victimized by Turkish authorities on their return and face the same situation that thousands of other are facing in Turkey.

In August this year, Pakistan reportedly promised Turkey’s visiting Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that it would honor his request to look into the matter of the Pak-Turk International Schools’ alleged links with US-based cleric Gulen. Now, finding themselves in the midst of a political battle they want or might have nothing to do with, hundreds of Turkish citizens, many of whom have lived in Pakistan since 1995, have been forced to wrap up their lives at a few days’ notice.

Needless to say, just as Turkey’s ‘Erdoganized’ administration has taken over the entire country, schools in Pakistan are also waiting to be swept away in the same manner.

According to a Pakistan official, a team from the Erdogan government would arrive in a few days to take control of the Pak-Turk institutions in Pakistan, adding that the Nawaz government had been under “extreme” pressure to act against the Turkish teachers and their families ahead of the arrival of Turkish President.

What explains Pakistan’s willingness to ‘submit’ to Turkish authoritarianism is its policy of keeping strong ties with powerful countries in the region.

Pakistan needs to sustain and deepen its ties, especially given the increasingly bellicose geopolitical environment shaping up in the region. Questions are arising about the nature of its ties to nations with whom it has traditionally enjoyed stable alliances (read: personal relations between Sharif and Erdogan or state-to-state relations). Its relationship with Turkey has surfaced prominently during this visit and the decision taken in its wake has drawn criticism from political parties and the media alike.

Salman Rafi

Salman Rafi Sheikh is a Pakistan based independent journalist and a research analyst of international relations and Pakistan affairs. His areas of interest include South and West Asian Geo-politics, the foreign policies of major powers, and Pakistani politics. He can be reached at salmansheikh.ss11.sr@gmail.com