ISLAMABAD - Pakistan assured Turkey on Tuesday it is exploring legal measures against educational and other institutions linked to Fethullah Gulen, whose followers Ankara blames for last month’s abortive coup.
The 75-year-old Muslim cleric, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, has denied involvement.
“We are going to protect the schools and students as far as those are concerned under some alternative arrangements …whereas their [other] activities have to be managed or curbed in whatever way our Turkish brothers would like us to do,” Pakistani foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz said in Islamabad.
He was addressing a joint news conference with visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and congratulated Turkey for its “victory for democracy and liberty”.
Ankara has been pressing Pakistan to shut down Gulen-linked establishments in the country and has intensified pressure since the coup.
Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's network of some two dozen schools operating in Pakistan for more than two decades. He runs several business entities and has established a branch of his so-called Rumi Forum in the country, a think tank platform promoting intercultural and intellectual dialogue.
Cavusoglu said that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already shared documents with Pakistani leaders about activities of Gulen’s group in Pakistan. But he agreed with Aziz that students and their families “should not be affected badly” while trying to resolve the issue.
“We have full cooperation with Pakistan in that regard. I am sure the necessary measures will be taken and we have to be very careful with such organizations and their causing risk or threat for the security and stability of every country that they have presence,” said Cavusoglu.
Under Erdogan, traditionally close ties between Pakistan and Turkey have deepened and expanded.
The Turkish foreign minister strongly defended demands for shutting down Gulen’s international establishments and a nationwide crackdown the government has unleashed on alleged coup plotters.
“We are taking all the necessary legal measures against the plotters of the coup, namely the terrorist organization Feto, headed by Fethullah Gulen based in Pennsylvania. All those responsible will be brought to justice. This bloody terrorist organization has a global network of schools, business associations and cultural organizations,” said Cavusoglu.
Gulen's Islamist “Hizmet” movement is believed to be running some 2,000 educational establishments in about 160 countries.
Turkish authorities have in recent days dismissed 1,400 military personnel while more than 50,000 have lost their jobs and over 18,000 have been detained for allegedly playing a role in the unsuccessful uprising.
Gulen, Erdogan’s opponent, has lived in the U.S. for nearly two decades. Turkey is demanding Washington extradite him and has sent documents to U.S. authorities on Gulen’s alleged involvement in the failed coup.