Pakistan will act against Gulen network

Pakistan will act against Gulen network
Caught in the war between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his former ally turned bitter foe Fethullah Gulen, Pakistan was left with no choice but to assuage the concerns of Ankara.

Gulen, who has a had a major presence in Pakistan for at least two decades, took the center stage in Pakistan-Turkey relations after the botched coup attempt blamed on the Gulen movement, as Ankara began pressing other countries to act against the 75-year-old US based cleric and his global network. Pakistan, which has had strong relations with Turkey, was naturally expected to go an extra mile.

“The government is very clear that it would address the concerns of the Turkish government. The modalities are, however, being worked out,” a senior foreign ministry official said.

Gulen’s network in Pakistan includes a chain of 28 schools (the Pak-Turk Schools, attended by some 11,000 students), the Rumi Forum (an intellectual platform) and some business stakes.

The Pak-Turk Schools management denies links with the Gulen movement even though it accepts that his articles and messages are circulated in the schools and one of their directors decried action against Gulen in a media interview.
The government does not want to shut the schools down completely

Such schools are the main drivers behind the cleric’s movement, developing ideological support for him across the globe. The business ventures bring money.

While the Pakistani government’s imminent action would be against all Gulen-affiliated organizations based here, the focus has been on Pak-Turk Schools because of their bigger footprint and public presence. Even in Turkey, the purge following the failed coup attempt has targeted educational institutions. About 1,043 private schools, 35 medical institutions, and 15 universities have been shut down.

The official said the Pakistan government had engaged the Turkish embassy for finalizing its course of action.

“We are exploring the option of some other Turkish institution taking over the schools, because the government is avoiding a situation where it may have to close them down,” he said. “But, in principle we agree with the Turkish government about curbing Gulen’s influence and activities here.”

Turkey is possibly open to the idea of just cutting off the Gulen link. Turkish envoy Sadik Babur Girgin told a reporter in Islamabad that his government was not demanding action against any Pakistani citizens. This implies that Turkey would not want to see students and employees at these institutions affected by their desire for action against the cleric’s network.

Gulen, who had been an Erdogan ally until 2011 or 2012 and had helped in the rise of his Justice and Development party (AKP), had continued to enjoy official patronage in Pakistan until few years ago. The huge infrastructure of Pak-Turk Schools, many believe, is an evidence of governmental support in the past.

The pressure on the Pakistan government for acting against Gulen-linked institutions began soon after the bitter political divorce between the two leaders. That pressure, insiders say, grew after their tussle took a bitter turn in December 2013, following disclosure of a corruption scandal in Turkey implicating Erdogan, who was then the prime minister, his family and his associates.

Since the two men fell apart, Erdogan has been calling the Gulen movement a “parallel state”, “state within a state”, “spies”, “traitors”, “leeches”, and “assassins”. “Terrorists” is the latest invective in Erdogan’s anti-Gulen vocabulary.

A source told me that the lease of a piece of land allocated to the Pak-Turk Schools management in Lahore, for setting up a university, was cancelled by the government in 2014 under pressure from Ankara.

The latest turn of events has forced Islamabad to hasten that action and fully meet Turkey’s demands.

The evidence of Gulen’s involvement in the coup that Turkey has shared with Pakistan is that the army officer who took the Turkish Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar hostage and later turned an approver, has said in a confessional statement that he was “planted” by Gulen and had been spying for him for some time. The coup plotters, they say, had also sworn allegiance to Gulen.

The key concern of the Turkish government is that Gulenists have penetrated into the armed forces, intelligence, police, judiciary and bureaucracy. That is why they now deem Gulen a bigger threat than ISIS or the Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK].

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad
Twitter: @bokhari_mr