LAHORE - Celebrations erupted at Gilani House Lahore here Wednesday as the special plane carrying Ali Haider Gilani, son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, touched the Lahore Airport.

He was recovered from Afghanistan on Tuesday after a successful operation against militants jointly conducted by American and Afghan forces.

Qasim Gilani, his twin brother, accompanied Ali Gilani from Kabul. His family members received him at the airport from where he was driven straight to their DHA residence. A good number of PPP supporters, friends and relatives gathered outside the residence to welcome junior Gilani who rejoined the family after three years.

Rose petals were showered on him as he stepped out of the car clad in a white T-shirt and supporting beard.

“I am really surprised at the extraordinary protocol I am being given,” he uttered in joy as he found himself surrounded by family members and relatives. 

His father Yousuf Raza Gilani and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto arrived later to join the celebrations at the Gilani House. In his brief chat with the media, Bilawal termed junior Gilani’s homecoming a beginning of good times ahead for the PPP. “Today is really a good day. The year 2016 will prove good for the party,” he observed. Both Gilani and Bilawal credited Afghan and American forces for recovery of Ali Gilani.

Gilani on this occasion also mentioned his meetings with army chief and the DG ISI (present and former) he held in the last three years for sharing of information about his son. He also recalled his meeting with Afghan President he held with the former President Asif Ali Zardari to seek his cooperation in this regard. “Since my child was in Afghanistan, he was recovered as a result of an American-led operation against the terrorists,” he said.

Gilani also talked about the existence of Punjabi Taliban and attributed their rise to poverty and ignorance in the areas from where they had emerged.

The former premier described Pakistan Army as one of the best armies in the world and lauded security agencies’ role and cooperation for safe return of his son.

Gilani said he could not receive his son at the airport since he was to appear before the court. “We respect the courts so I could not receive my son,” he said. 

Bilawal, on this occasion, seemed disinclined to speaking on politics as he did not take most of the political questions from the media. “Today I have come to meet Ali Gilani, so I will not be talking much on politics. Nonetheless, he said he was waiting for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to come to the National Assembly and answer the questions about the Panama Papers.

Also, PPP workers took out a rally yesterday to celebrate the release of Ali Haider Gilani. A large number of PPP workers gathered outside Lahore Press Club some of them dancing on the beat of drum to express their delight. Sweets were also distributed after address of PPP leaders.

Agencies add: Later, up to ten goats were sacrificed in celebration.

Faiza Malik, a politician from Punjab, said she was “very emotional” after witnessing the scene inside the house.

“Almost everyone had tears in their eyes after meeting Ali Gilani,” she said. “There was nobody - brother, sister, uncles - who was not weeping after hugging him.”

Before his departure from Afghanistan, Gilani, with long hair and a grey-streaked beard, thanked his rescuers.

Looking tired but otherwise healthy, he said pressure from Pakistani forces fighting militants in lawless frontier lands had forced his captors to take him over the border into Afghanistan.

“I really appreciate the Afghan government’s efforts and the Afghan forces’ efforts for someone, these sacrifices, for someone from another country,” he told reporters at Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defence where he was handed over to Pakistani diplomats.

“That shows the efforts of the Afghan government to bringing peace in the region,” he said.

“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 said. “I’m just looking forward to being reunited with my family and just getting back to normal life.”

The rescue offered a rare moment of warmth and respite in long-running tensions between Kabul and Islamabad, which many in Afghanistan blame for fostering and sheltering Taliban leaders on their soil.

Ali Gilani was flown home on a chartered aircraft sent from Pakistan.

He waved to the crowd and was mobbed by well-wishers and journalists. Gilani was abducted on May 9, 2013, outside an office of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in Multan, two days before an election.

His rescue occurred partly by chance, as Afghan and US special forces raided the suspected al Qaeda compound.

The force had an ‘inkling’ a hostage was being held there but was not aware it was Gilani, said Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, spokesman for the NATO-led force.

He said four al Qaeda fighters were killed in the raid. Gilani was with his captors but was identified as a hostage after he did not try to resist.