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 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 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 free.
The administration has also put in place special security arrangements for the couple in Lahore.
Over 300 policemen will be deployed to guard the couple.
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."
Sania, Shoaib Arrive in Pakistan to Frenzied Reception
Rezaul H Laskar/Islamabad
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