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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cross border love story grips India and Pakistan

The classic – boy meets girl and lives happily ever after? 
Not so fast.
This is Pakistan and India – rival nuclear-armed nations that have already fought three wars against each other and often seem on the brink of a fourth. 
When Malik, 28, went on national television to proclaim his love for Mirza, 23, the pair – both Muslim – made headlines all over South Asia. Pakistanis celebrated, while the Indians cried foul.  
International affair 
Almost immediately, another Indian Muslim woman Ayesha Siddiqui, claimed Malik had married her by telephone in 2002 and he, therefore, cannot marry Mirza. Her family went to the Indian police and, on behalf of their daughter, filed claims of harassment, cheating and cruelty, against Malik. The police opened an investigation and seized Malik’s passport so he could not leave India.
The Shoaib-Sania marriage controversy, as it is called, soon snowballed into a major diplomatic row. Shah Mahmood Quereshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister, said that the government fully supports Malik. "The foreign ministry is monitoring the situation," he said.
Malik finally admitted that he had signed a marriage agreement, called a nikahnama, with Siddiqui in 2001, after she sent him pictures and the pair began a telephone relationship. 
But in an interview Sunday with The Times of India, Malik said that he never consummated the marriage because he had been duped. He claimed that the girl shown in the photographs he had received was not the same girl he married on the phone.
Siddiqui lashed back and claimed on Pakistani and Indian television that Malik dumped her because his teammates said she was too fat. "I need an official divorce now," she said. And she threatened to sue Malik if she didn’t get it. Meanwhile, both families hired lawyers.
Throughout all the clamor and clatter, Mirza stood by her man. "Me and my family know what the truth is, we’ve known it all along and we have confidence in God’s justice," she Tweeted.
Continental divideSoon religious clerics and politicians, on both sides of the border, jumped into the fray. Muslim scholars asserted that Muslim law in India does not require a husband to take consent from his first wife before re-marrying – after all, Islam allows men to have four wives. 
Meanwhile, some Pakistanis are whispering that Siddiqui really works for Indian intelligence and that the whole tussle is a plot to further defame Pakistan. 
And not to be left out, Hindu nationalists bellowed that Muslims were trying to take over India again and Mirza can no longer remain an Indian once she marries a Pakistani.
The saucy tennis star became a national celebrity at 18 and became the first Indian woman to win a WTA tour title - both in singles and doubles. She is the highest ranking female tennis player ever from India, with a career high ranking of 27 in singles and 18 in doubles; she finished 2009 ranked 58 in the world. 
Since becoming a tennis star, she has been caught in the crosshairs: criticized by conservative Islamists for her short skirts on the tennis court and, now, by Hindu politicians over her upcoming marriage to Malik. 
Pramod Muthalik, a right-wing Indian politician, put it this way: "She couldn’t find herself a man among one billion Indians."
Emotions on both sides of the border boiled over. When Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari addressed the nation on Monday night to announce historic constitutional reforms, the leading channels chose, instead, to headline the latest twists and turns in the Shoaib-Sania saga. The nation paid short shrift to what the president had to say.
And now, that happy ending may be in sight. In countries where marriages are still arranged by families and dowries are exchanged, saving face is important. Malik, in a move to calm the situation and find a compromise, sent divorce papers on Wednesday to Siddiqui, his first wife.
"This is good news," said Javed Sheikh, an actor, who has starred in Pakistani and Indian films. "Surely, there would have been a negative impact on Pakistan-Indian diplomatic relations if this marriage would not have gone ahead."
The Shoaib-Sania marriage is set to  take place April 15 in Hyderabad, India – Bollywood style.