Shoaib, Sania land in Pak; made `state guests`

Indian tennis star Sania Mirza and Pak cricketer Shoaib Malik arrived in Karachi to a frenzied reception.

Updated: Apr 23, 2010, 00:14 AM IST

Islamabad: Newly-wed couple tennis star
Sania Mirza and cricketer Shoaib Malik arrived in Pakistan
today 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 this 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

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 tomorrow.

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.

Awan, who represents Shoaib`s hometown of Sialkot in
parliament, has said she will ask the couple to be ambassadors
for Pakistan`s population control programmes.

From Islamabad, the couple will travel to Sialkot and
Lahore, where two receptions will be held on April 25 and
April 27 respectively.

Shoaib`s friends in Sialkot will host a reception at
the Cantonment Golf Club on April 25.

The cricketer`s childhood friend Hafiz Imran, who is
part of the group organising the reception, told the media
that special teams had been brought in from Lahore for putting
together the event.

The cricketer will host a `walima` or reception at the
Crystal Hall of Pearl Continental Hotel, where a booking has
been made for 750 guests on April 27.

The hotel will provide its presidential suite number
850, which has a tariff of Rs 75,000 a day, to the couple for

The administration has also put in place special
security arrangements for the couple in Lahore.

Over 300 policemen will be deployed to guard the

City police chief Pervaiz Rathore said, "Both are
sports super stars and will be given protection at all levels.
From the airport to their home, the venue of their reception
and places they visit, including homes of friends, everything
will be protected."

Prime Gilani is also expected to hold a reception in
the couple`s honour later this month.