After being held captive in Afghanistan for three years, the son of a former Pakistani prime minister is finally heading home.
A joint force of troops from the United States and Afghanistan rescued Ali Haider Gilani, son of former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani Tuesday during a raid of a suspected Al Qaeda safe house.
Mr. Gilani was kidnapped in May 2013 outside of an office of his father’s political party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), two days before an election. Tuesday's anti-terror operation was unrelated to Gilani, and the raid participants were unaware of his location at the Paktika province compound.
Gilani’s rescue was coupled with the killing of four Al Qaeda militants at the raid site. Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, a spokesman for the join incursion force, said the NATO operation had an “inkling” a hostage was being held, but was unaware it was Gilani, according to Reuters.
While the mission was designed “to go after al-Qaida-related targets in the area,” Cleveland told the Associated Press, “here was an indication that there may have been a hostage being held with them.”
“[I]t was a nice surprise to get that,” he added.
Upon his return to the Pakistani city of Lahore via charter plane, Gilani was greeted by a crowd of supporters and was showered with rose petals. He was previously flown to Bagram Air Field near Kabul for a medical check-up before his arrival in Lahore. Gilani appeared healthy, if tired, and was grateful for his rescue.
“I really appreciate the Afghan government's efforts and the Afghan forces’ efforts for someone,” he said, according to Reuters. “That shows the efforts of the Afghan government to bringing peace in the region.
“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 added. “I'm just looking forward to being reunited with my family and just getting back to normal life.”
Gilani’s father and brother, Abdul Qadir Gilani, both expressed their excitement at well.
“This is a very good day for me,” the former prime minister said, while his brother added “I am very happy and I have no words to express my joy.”
“We are thankful to God,” he said.
The rescue and return of Gilani is one of the few recent examples of cooperation between Kabul and Islamabad, between which tensions are brewing over the alleged sheltering of insurgent Taliban forces.
Gilani’s experience was similar to that of Shahbaz Taseer, the son of Salmaan Taseer, a former Punjab, Pakistan governor and PPP member. Mr. Taseer was kidnapped by militants in 2011, months after his father was assassinated for his criticisms of Pakistani blasphemy regulations. Taseer was rescued this past March, one week after his father’s killer was executed.