Al Qaeda wanted the release of a few women from Ayman al-Zawahiri’s family in exchange of Ali Haider Gilani. In a detailed interview with the BBC Ali Haider Gilani revealed details of his three years in captivity with the Taliban.
Ali Haider Gilani, son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, was abducted by Al-Qaeda militants from his hometown Multan. He was campaigning for a provincial seat in the 2013 general elections. He returned only recently, when a raid by United States forces resulted in his rescue.
Gilani opened up about his captivity in the interview and said that along with demanding ransom as well as the release of high profile Al-Qaeda prisoners they also told him that the attack 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 said.
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 twi 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.
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.
Muhmmed Jamaluddin, his son was only a toddler when his father was kidnapped. Gilani spoke about his sorrow at the thought of having missed important days in his son’s life. His first day to school, his first step.
Gilani remembers fearing for his life everyday. While the Taliban did not torture him physically they inflicted psychological pain in efforts to break him.
“They’d tell me ‘you’re not a Muslim, your father is not a Muslim, you’ll go to hell, your family is not doing anything to help you’.”
Gilani says he was kept in a war zone, with drones, tanks, mortar and fighter jets a common occurrence.
He describes the drone as a bee which keeps hovering over you r head, buzzing away.
“It wasn’t just one drone, there were three, four or five at one time roaming day and night,” he said.
A drone strike in the month of January led to the Al-Qaeda hading 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 did not stay with them for long, the Pakistani army had pushed into the area and the Taliban militants crossed the Afghanistan border, taking Gilani with them.
Change in captors led to a change in living conditions for Gilani. “I wasn’t chained, I was allowed to walk, to see the sun,” he said. He even remembers being given a radio.
“One day I asked them for the radio to listen to a cricket match. It was the World Cup and Pakistan won a match against South Africa,” he said.
Gilani spent over two months in Afghanistan before the compound was cleared following an American air raid.
He was walking with his captors for about two to three hours in the dark of the night before they started hearing gunshots.
“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.
Gilani was later informed that the raid targeted the Al-Qaeeda miltant.
Speaking of his rescue he said he was lucky to have been there.
“It didn’t sink in till I was in the helicopter, the guy [from the US Forces] said ‘Mr Gilani, you’re going home’.”
While preparations were being made for Gilani’s return home, word had spread in Pakistan and people were eagerly waiting for his return.
Gilani said how he was surprised to see his son all grown up and how it took some time to recognize him, but Jamaluddin recognized his father instantly.
“I said ‘Baby, I’m your father’ and he told me ‘I recognise you Baba’.”
On a parting note, Gilani spoke of his intention of writing a book about his years in captivity and his eventual return to politics.
“It’s in my blood,” he said.