After three years of captivity in Afghanistan, Ali Haider Gilani, son of a former Pakistan premier, has reunited with his family in Lahore. Gilani was rescued in a joint Afghan-US operation in eastern Afghanistan.
Hundreds of supporters had gathered outside the residence of Former Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in the eastern city of Lahore to welcome Ali Haider Gilani home. A special government plane had brought the 30-year-old from Kabul, where he was transferred after his successful rescue on Tuesday.
Ali Haider Gilani, a member of the secular Pakistan People's Party (PPP), was kidnapped by armed gunmen at a rally in the city of Multan in May 2013. Gilani's father became prime minister in 2008, following the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto the previous December.
The PPP is against Islamic militancy and favors a military crackdown on the Taliban and other jihadist groups in the country.
Ali Haider Gilani was rescued in the Giyan district of the Paktika province on Tuesday by US Special Operations Forces and Afghan commandos, according to NATO. Afghan authorities said the raid targeted an al Qaeda cell.
"Ali Haider Gilani was abducted by an al Qaeda-affiliated militant group in the southeastern city of Multan. Banned Islamist groups kidnap government officials and politicians for ransom and to increase pressure on Islamabad. A number of important figures are still in Taliban's captivity," Salman Abid, a Lahore-based security analyst, told DW, adding that it was unclear whether the Pakistani government paid ransom for Gilani's release.
'Thank you, Afghanistan, US'
"I really appreciate the Afghan forces' effort… This shows the efforts of the Afghan government to bringing peace in the region," Ali Haider Gilani told media on Wednesday in Kabul before departing for Pakistan.
"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," he added.
At a ceremony in Kabul, Ali Haider Gilani also thanked the Pakistani troops fighting Islamists in the restive northwestern areas. A military operation against militants is what "forced my captors to flee from Pakistan to Afghanistan," said the PPP politician.
There were scenes of jubilation in Lahore as Gilani's plane landed.
"Almost everyone had tears in their eyes after meeting Ali Haider Gilani," said Faiza Malik, a politician in the Punjab province.
Ali Haider Gilani, who was donning a white T-shirt and baseball cap, was visibly in good health.
A 'happy accident'
Meanwhile, US forces in Afghanistan said Wednesday that the ex-premier's son's release was a "happy accident."
"We were conducting a counter-terrorism operation against an al Qaeda cell jointly with the Afghan forces," said General Charles Cleveland, spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan.
"The al Qaeda members were outside the compound, when they saw our troops. They exchanged fire, and four al Qaeda members were killed. Ali didn't resist and once the forces caught him, he identified himself and we brought him to Kabul," Cleveland told reporters in the Afghan capital.
Less than 100 US and Afghan soldiers were involved in the operation.