Newlyweds tennis star Sania Mirza and cricketer Shoaib Malik arrived in Pakistan to a frenzied reception, with the federal government according the couple the status of “state guests”.
After flying into the port city of Karachi from Mumbai in the afternoon, the couple arrived in the federal capital late Thursday evening.
The couple and their entourage were received by senior police and civil officials at Benazir Bhutto airport in Rawalpindi and driven to Serena Hotel in Islamabad.
Coverage of Sania and Shoaib’s every move dominated news bulletins on TV channels though Pakistan is grappling with a crippling energy crisis that has sparked protests across the country.
New measures unveiled by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani were relegated to second place as the TV news channels sought to out-do each other with “exclusive footage” of the couple.
Sania and Shoaib disappointed hundreds of fans who gathered at the airports in Karachi and Islamabad as they did not make any public appearances.
At both places, they were whisked on and off the aircraft amidst tight security.
The fans, who carried banners with slogans like “Welcome to Pakistan’s daughter-in-law”, said they were disappointed that Sania and Shoaib did not even emerge from the airport to wave to them.
Footage on television showed Sania, wearing a green salwar and a red kurta, holding the hand of Shoaib, clad in a green T-shirt and jeans, as they emerged from the aircraft at the Rawalpindi airport.
While airing reports on the couple, Geo News channel ran a ticker that read: “Welcome Sania-Shoaib”.
The security arrangements put in place for the couple’s drive from the airport in Rawalpindi to Islamabad were akin to those made for VVIPs like the Prime Minister and President, and outsiders were barred from the Serena by the hotel’s management.
The hotel’s management decided to host the couple for free and arranged a special cake to mark their wedding.
The couple is expected to meet Indian High Commissioner Sharat Sabharwal on Friday.
Officials said Sania had sought a meeting though the reason was not known.
The Indian envoy is not hosting any reception for the couple, the officials said.
Sania and Shoaib arrived in Pakistan after their April 12 wedding that some in Pakistan, like Population Welfare Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan, are hoping will help bridge the divide with India.