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Celebrations as Ali Haider Gilani returns home

Celebrations as Ali Haider Gilani returns home

LAHORE: A special aircraft carrying son of ex-prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Ali Haider Gilani, who was recovered in an operation in Afghanistan three years after being kidnapped, landed here on Wednesday after he was handed over to Pakistan officials in Kabul.

Hundreds of supporters gathered outside the Gilani residence in Lahore to welcome the 30-year-old. Rose petals were showered on the car carrying Ali Haider, who stepped out and waved to supporters.

Before departing for Lahore in a special aircraft sent by Pakistani government, Ali Haider said he was “looking forward to being reunited with my family”.

“I really appreciate Afghan forces who fought for my recovery,” Gilani, who was bearded, clad in a white T-shirt and sporting a camouflage baseball cap, told officials at the ceremony in Kabul.

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

Senior protocol officials of Foreign Office, including Pakistan Ambassador to Afghanistan Syed Ibrar Hussain, and brother Kasim Gilani received Ali Haider at the Defence ministry in Kabul.

The information about the recovery of Haider, who was kidnapped after an election rally in May 2013 in his hometown Multan, was conveyed by Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar to Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz in a telephonic conversation.

“I called Mr Yusuf Raza Gilani and informed him about the good news. He was ecstatically delighted as expected and grateful of President [Ashraf] Ghani’s personal attention to his son’s safe release,” the Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal said in a statement. “He also thanked the Afghan Security Forces for bringing a happy ending to a dreadful family saga for them.”

‘Operation Freedom’s Sentinel’

A Pakistani security source told Dawn that Afghan and US forces raided the Al Qaeda compound after being tipped about the presence of a high-value target.

But an official US statement that the State Department shared with Dawn in Washington stated that the rescue mission, which was part of a joint US and Afghan counterterrorism campaign called “Operation Freedom’s Sentinel”, was launched after intelligence sources confirmed “evidence of terrorist” activity in that area.

“Four enemy combatants were killed as a result of the operation. No other injuries or damage was observed or reported,” the statement added.

A spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, Brigadier Charles Cleveland, told the Associated Press that Haider had been held in a compound occupied in Gaylan district by Al Qaeda operatives. “He [Haider] was the sole non-combatant, he didn’t fight back, so we picked him up,” he said.

He said that Haider had been flown by helicopter to the Bagram Air Field, 45 kilometres from Kabul.

Haider was running for a provincial assembly seat from Multan when he was kidnapped on May 9, 2013. One of his guards and his secretary were killed during his abduction. He remained in captivity for three years.

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