Love-all for Pakistan’s new favorite daughter

Pakistan has a habit of conferring the title of “daughter” on women. There was Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of the East, a title the late prime minister was recognized by until the day she died. Then there was Aafia Siddiqui, a neuroscientist who was dubbed the daughter of Pakistan by a country outraged at her alleged abuse at the hands of coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistan just welcomed its new favorite daughter — albeit a daughter-in-law — Indian tennis player Sania Mirza. Mirza became a pin-up girl in India when she debuted on the world stage, and everything from her tennis attire of short skirts to her fiancé were analyzed breathlessly.

But this week, Mirza dropped a bombshell with the announcement that she was engaged to Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik. India and Pakistan — countries that have been at war and share a deep rivalry when it comes to sports — erupted with the news. After all, Mirza, whose career has been marred with injuries and varying degrees of success, is one of India’s most recognizable names. When she broke off her engagement to childhood friend Sohrab Mirza this year, Indian news media outlets analyzed why she had decided to call it quits. Clearly, as Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik would have said, a “foreign hand” was at play.

Shoaib Malik has captained the Pakistani cricket team, but his own career and personal life have been rather tumultuous. He was recently banned by the Pakistan Cricket Board for a year, and there has been a barrage of rumors about his dating several women in India. Detractors would undoubtedly say that these are all conspiracies to debase a man of the land of the pure.

While Pakistani families debate over whether Mirza will be allowed to wear short skirts, where the couple will reside (they have announced that they will live in Dubai), and which country the two will support, the couple has tried to play down the “cross-border incursion.” Mirza told the Indian press on Tuesday, “I’m going to keep playing. I will play for India, and inshallah he will play for Pakistan,” Mirza said. Malik, on the other hand, is already settling into the role of doting fiancé. “I fully understand what it takes to be an international sportsperson. I’ll support Sania in her career as long as she wishes to play. Representing India at the 2012 Olympics is very important for her, and I will be the proudest husband if she can win a medal for her country.”

The couple has plans to marry next month (though reportedly they’ve only been dating for the last six months). Meanwhile, Pakistani news channels have taken to promoting the engagement using Indian film songs, newspapers have used cricket analogies, and a Photoshopped image of Malik’s face in Mirza’s engagement photograph has done the rounds on the Internet for the past two days. As Pakistanis crow over their newest daughter, they realize that the ball is finally in their court!

Saba Imtiaz works for the Express Tribune, an English-language newspaper in Pakistan scheduled to launch this Spring.

STR/AFP/Getty Images


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