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LAHORE: Ali Haider Gilani, son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, waves as he arrives here on Wednesday in a shower of rose petals.—AFP
LAHORE: Ali Haider Gilani, son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, waves as he arrives here on Wednesday in a shower of rose petals.—AFP

LAHORE: The freed son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was reunited with his family here on Wednesday afternoon after three years as a large slogan-chanting crowd of his supporters showered his car with rose petals and danced to drumbeats to celebrate his homecoming.

A bearded Ali Haider Gilani wearing a white T-shirt and sporting a baseball cap stepped out of the black SUV to wave at the supporters before entering his family home where emotional scenes were witnessed as he was reunited with his family and friends.

The 30-year-old was flown from Kabul in a special aircraft, which the foreign ministry said was sent by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He was accompanied by his twin brother Kasim Gilani and Pakistan’s embassy staff in Kabul.

Haider Gilani was rescued from an Al Qaeda compound during a joint counter-terror raid by the US and Afghan forces in the Giyan district of Paktika province, Afgha­nistan, on Tuesday.

He was kidnapped by militants during the election campaign on the outskirts of Multan on May 9, two days before the 2013 general elections.

He was contesting for a provincial seat.

All family members of Ali Haider except his father were present at the old Lahore airport to greet him. Yousuf Raza Gilani was in Islamabad in connection with a court appearance. “It’s a pity that the father could not be here to receive his son,” said Pakistan Peoples Party leader Shaukat Basra. Ali Haider’s six-year-old son Jamaluddin also went to receive his father at the airport.

“Words are not enough to express our feeling. In three years, there was not a single moment that we lost hope and today my brother is among us,” Abdul Qadir Gilani, elder brother of Ali Haider, told Dawn.

Ali Haider was escorted by police and private security personnel from the airport to their Defence residence. As his convoy reached close to his house a large number of PPP workers who had gathered there showered his four-by-four with rose petals and danced to drumbeats for quite some time, chanting slogans. People from the neighbourhood also stepped out of their homes and joined the celebrations.

“The Gilani family could not sleep last night out of excitement to see Ali Haider in the morning,” Aapa Nighat, a sister of Yousuf Raza Gilani, told this reporter. Expressing her and other family members’ joy over the release of her nephew, she said Ali Haider was in high spirits and in good health.

“I cannot believe that I am meeting you. Phupo, it is Allah’s blessing that today I am among you. It is hard to speak about the time I spent during captivity,” Appa Nighat quoted him as having said.

His father joined his homecoming celebrations later in the day along with PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and his sister Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari.

Bilawal said he had come here to meet Ali Haider. “He has returned home after three years. It is very good news. First Shahbaz Taseer was freed and now Ali Haider. I am very happy. Today is a big day,” Bilawal said.

The former prime minister said that he could not receive his son at the airport, as he was to secure bail in a case. “We respect courts. I want to congratulate the people of Pakistan and thank the Afghan and US forces for securing the safe release of my son in the operation,” he said. “The good news was first given to me by the Afghan ambassador. I am also thankful to the prime minister for arranging a special plane to bring back my son.”

Meanwhile, a private TV channel reported that the militants who had kidnapped Ali Haider kept him in Faisalabad for a month and a half before moving him to Afghanistan.

The former prime minister had told Dawn some time ago that the captors of his son wanted to secure release of some prisoners from Pakistani jails in exchange for Ali Haider’s freedom. The Pakistani officials had also confirmed that Haider was kept in areas bordering Afghanistan.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2016