‘I feared for my life everyday’: Ali Haider Gilani

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ISLAMABAD, June 28 (APP): Ali Haider Gilani, son of former prime minister of Yousaf Raza Gilani,has finally spoken about the miseries he faced during his three year long abduction by Al-Qaeda militants in Afghanistan.

In an exclusive interview with BBC, he said that his abduction took place in his hometown of Multan, Pakistan in year 2013 when he was campaigning for a provincial seat in parliamentary elections for the Pakistan People’s Party.

There had been no threats prior to the abduction but Gilani remembers a friend warning him that he was being followed by a car a week before he was kidnapped.

“I stepped out of the rally and someone held me by my neck and pushed me. I was still on the floor when they hit me on my head with the gun and my forehead started bleeding. Six men forced me into a car and threw my clothes and shoes out,” said Gilani.

Ali Gilani said that apart from the ransom and the demands to release
high profile al-Qaeda prisoners, his abductors told him that the abduction was aimed directly at his father.

“My father was prime minister when their leader Osama Bin Laden was killed. He also started an operation in South Waziristan. They told me they wanted to take revenge,” he added.

According to Ali Gilani, he was first taken to the industrial town of Faisalabad in Punjab province. He was then moved to the tribal areas of North Waziristan.

He was kept a close watch on while in captivity. “An Al-Qaeda member Zia, lived with me for three years”.

Speaking about his survival in captivity, Gilani stated that he had been chained for over two years and had not felt the sun on his skin for over a year. He spoke of a diary he used to keep track of time and to pen down his daily thoughts. “It kept me sane,” he added.

His son, Mohamed Jamaluddin, was a toddler when Ali Gilani was abducted.

He said one of the most difficult things about his captivity was knowing that he had missed key moments in his son’s life like his first day of school and his birthdays.

While the al-Qaeda militants did not physically torture him, Ali Haider said they tried to break him mentally.

“They would tell me ‘you are not a Muslim, your father is not a Muslim,
you shall go to hell, your family aren’t doing anything to help you,” he told.

Gilani said he was kept in a war zone, with drones, tanks, mortar and fighter jets a common occurrence. The Pakistani army has gone after Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in this area for years and has intensified their campaign since July 2014.

Ali Gilani was handed over to the Taliban after a series of drone strikes.

It was a drone strike in January that prompted al-Qaeda to hand Mr Gilani over to the Taliban.

“They handed me over to the Pakistani Taliban in the Shawal area, in North Waziristan to keep me safe”, he informed.

But soon after, the Pakistani army pushed into the area and the Taliban militants fled across the border to Afghanistan’s Paktika province and took  him with them.

All through that time he was being watched closely by an al-Qaeda operative who accompanied him wherever he went.

His living conditions, however, improved with the Pakistani Taliban. “I wasn’t chained, I was allowed to walk, to see the sun,” he said.

He added that he was even given a radio: “I used to listen to the BBC,
it was my contact to the outside world.”

Gilani had been in Afghanistan for just over two months, mainly with two militants one from the Pakistani Taliban and one from al-Qaeda.

On 9 May, his captors told him they had to vacate the compound because they received a tip off of an American air raid.

“We left at night and were walking for three or four hours when I heard
helicopters then gunshots,” he said.

“I fell to the ground. Then a voice told me to take my shirt off, put my hands in the air and someone came and tied my hands.

“I said ‘My name is Ali Haider Gilani I’m the son of the former prime minister. They didn’t believe me at first but later they confirmed I was telling the truth,” he said.

He later learnt that the raid had targeted the al-Qaeda militant.

“I was just lucky to be there,” he said of his rescue.

“It didn’t sink in till I was in the helicopter, the guy [from the US Forces] said ‘Mr Gilani, you’re going home’.”

He was moved to Bagram airbase and was met by senior Afghan generals.

Next day he went to Kabul and saw his brother for the first time.

“I was still in shock,” he said. “A few hours ago, I was in the hands of the Taliban. I could die any moment. Now, I’m seeing my family.”

By that time, the news had spread all over Pakistan and celebrations had broken out in his hometown of Multan. When he arrived there his family was waiting.

“First I hugged my mother. She was crying and I said ‘it’s over I’m back now.’ Then I met my son. He’d changed so much, I didn’t recognise him but he did.

“I said ‘Baby, I’m your father’ and he told me ‘I recognise you Baba’.”
Gilani says he is keen to move on with his life, he implied to write a book where he will reveal more details about his time in captivity. He says he will eventually go back to politics.”It’s in my blood,” he said.