Pakistan ex-PM's son returns after three year hostage ordeal

Image source, AP
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Home at last: after three years in captivity, Ali Haidar Gilani is looking forward to spending time with his family

The kidnapped son of Pakistan's ex-Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has returned home to Pakistan, after three years in captivity.

Ali Haider Gilani was rescued in a joint Afghan-US special forces operation on Tuesday.

He was abducted three years ago while campaigning for elections, reportedly by al-Qaeda-linked militants.

He thanked the Afghan security forces for "their sacrifice for someone from another country".

"That shows the efforts of the Afghan government to bringing peace in the region," he told reporters in Kabul, where he was handed over to Pakistani diplomats.

Image source, EPA
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Mr Gilani got a huge welcome from Pakistan People's Party supporters as he arrived at his home in Lahore

He also thanked US forces for providing him with food, shelter and medical care.

"I'm just looking forward to being reunited with my family and just getting back to normal life," he added.

He arrived at the defence ministry in Kabul with long hair and a heavy beard, wearing a T-shirt, combat trousers and a baseball cap.

After undergoing medical check-ups at a military base, he was flown home on a chartered aircraft sent from Pakistan with his brother aboard, according to Pakistan's foreign ministry.

Image source, AFP
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His long hair and a heavy beard are telling signs of how long he spent in captivity, but he was said to be healthy and in good spirits
Media caption,
Ali Haider Gilani's brother said they were unaware of the operation to free him

The BBC's Pashto Online Editor Inayatulhaq Yasini says the rescue mission by US-Afghan forces may open the door for new contacts between the two capitals.

There have been long-running tensions between Kabul and Islamabad. Afghanistan blames Pakistan for harbouring Taliban militants, but Pakistan says it is itself the victim of militants from Afghanistan.

'Caught unaware'

The Nato-led mission in Afghanistan said he had been rescued in a joint operation in the eastern Paktika province.

"The counter-terrorism mission was planned and launched after evidence of terrorist activity was confirmed," the Resolute Support mission said in a statement.

The force had an "inkling" a hostage was being held there but was not aware it was Mr Gilani, according to Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, spokesman for the Nato-led force.

Ali Haider Gilani's brother, Ali Musa Gilani, told the BBC he had been caught unaware by the release, with the family not told about the operation.

"He [Ali Haider Gilani] called himself from an Afghanistan number, and he just told me, 'I have US military around me, and they have rescued me, and now what are you doing? Who are you getting in touch with to get me out of here?'"

Media caption,
Mike Wooldridge in Islamabad says violence has cast ''a long shadow'' over the election

Ali Haider Gilani is the youngest son of Yusuf Raza Gilani, who was prime minister of Pakistan from 2008 until 2012.

He had been contesting a seat in the Punjab provincial assembly in the May 2013 elections, when he was seized from his home town of Multan, by gunmen who opened fire on a campaign rally just a few days before the polls opened.

Suspicion immediately fell on the Pakistani Taliban, which had been openly threatening the governing PPP and other secular parties in Pakistan in the run-up to the election.

But the Afghan envoy to Pakistan said on Tuesday that Mr Gilani had been held by an al-Qaeda-linked group

Kidnapping has frequently been used as a tactic by militant groups across Pakistan, who want the ransom money for revenue and use the hostages as bargaining chips in negotiations with the authorities.

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