ISLAMABAD (AP) — Ahead of a visit by Turkey's president, Islamabad ordered 400 Turkish nationals affiliated with a chain of international schools in Pakistan to leave the country within 72 hours, officials said Wednesday.
The move was announced on the website of the Pak-Turk International chain of schools and colleges, and confirmed by two school officials. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they feared for their safety when they return to Turkey.
Turkish officials have accused the school of being affiliated with the movement of U.S.-based dissident cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Islamabad later Wednesday for a two-day visit and was received by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family.
The Turkish leader has accused Gulen supporters of staging a failed July 15 coup attempt. His government later seized hundreds of social, educational and health care facilities and sacked thousands of employees on suspicion of working for Gulen.
The Pak-Turk International operates 28 campuses throughout Pakistan. Of those being asked to leave, 108 are staff members and the rest are family members.
Erdogan welcomed Pakistan's decision at the Ankara airport before leaving for the trip, praising Islamabad for showing solidarity with Turkey against Gulen's movement — which Turkey has designated a terror organization.
"They moved rapidly in the direction of ending the (Gulen movement's) presence in Pakistan and toward thwarting their attempts at unrest," Erdogan said. "As you know, Pakistan has asked persons linked to the organization to leave the country by Nov. 20. This is very pleasing for us."
One of the Pak-Turk school officials denied that the institution was in any way related to Gulen. He said school was registered locally and fulfilled all local legal requirements. The other official said the school will challenge the decision because it wasn't possible for so many people to leave on such short notice.
Both officials said the expulsions will not hinder the day-to-day functioning of the school, since the vast majority of the 1,500 staff members are Pakistani.
Erdogan said Turkey's educational authorities would help Pakistan overcome any problems the expulsion may cause.
"We will do whatever we can to ensure that there is no void or suffering as a result of the ouster of this organization from the country," he said.
A Pakistani Interior Ministry spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed to this report.