Haider thanks Afghanistan

WEB DESK: The son of a former Pakistani prime minister who was rescued by Afghan and US forces from al Qaeda captors in Afghanistan arrived home to a rapturous welcome in Pakistan on Wednesday, three years after being kidnapped from his home town.

Ali Haider Gilani was rescued on Monday by a joint force of Afghan and US commandos who attacked a house held by al Qaeda militants in Paktika province, just across the border from Pakistan.

Before his departure from Afghanistan, Gilani, with long hair and a grey-streaked beard, thanked his rescuers. Looking tired but otherwise healthy, the son of former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said pressure from Pakistani forces fighting militants in lawless frontier lands had forced his captors to take him over the border into Afghanistan.

“I really appreciate the Afghan government’s efforts and the Afghan forces’ efforts for someone, these sacrifices, for someone from another country,” he told reporters at Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defence where he was handed over to Pakistani diplomats. “That shows the efforts of the Afghan government to bringing peace in the region,” he said.

“I would also like to thank US forces which, at the critical moments of my release provided me with shelter, food and medical care,” he said.

“I’m just looking forward to being reunited with my family and just getting back to normal life.” The rescue offered a rare moment of warmth and respite in long-running tensions between Kabul and Islamabad.

Gilani was flown home on a chartered aircraft sent from Pakistan and was later showered with rose petals as he got out of a vehicle outside the family home in the city of Lahore. He waved to the crowd and was mobbed by well-wishers and journalists.

Gilani was abducted on May 9, 2013, outside an office of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in his home town of Multan, two days before an election.

His rescue occurred partly by chance, as Afghan and US special forces raided the suspected al Qaeda compound. The force had an “inkling” a hostage was being held there but was not aware it was Gilani, said Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, spokesman for the Nato-led force.

He said four al Qaeda fighters were killed in the raid. Gilani was with his captors but was identified as a hostage after he did not try to resist.

Crowds of well-wishers dancing to drum beats greeted the 30-year-old’s arrival at his family’s home in Lahore in a black SUV strewn with pink rose petals. Later, up to ten goats were sacrificed in celebration. Faiza Malik, a Punjabi politician, said she was “very emotional” after witnessing the scene inside the house.

“Almost everyone had tears in their eyes after meeting Ali Gilani,” she said. “There was nobody – brother, sister, uncles – who was not weeping after hugging him.”

Gilani, who is a triplet, was accompanied by his brother Ali Kasim on the journey from Kabul in a plane that the Pakistani foreign ministry said was sent by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

His father was reportedly absent from the reunion, with television channels reporting his appearance in a court in Islamabad on corruption charges.

“I really appreciate the… Afghan forces efforts,” Gilani, bearded and wearing a white T-shirt and camouflage baseball cap, told media at a ceremony earlier Wednesday in Kabul.

In May last year, he was able to phone his father to tell him he was well. At the ceremony in Kabul, Gilani also thanked Pakistani soldiers fighting in the tribal areas on the porous border who “forced my captors to flee from Pakistan to Afghanistan”. – Reuters/AFP