THE BLOG

Pakistanis Turn a Controversial Cricketer into a National Hero

Pakistani cricketer and former skipper Shoaib Malik has tied the knot with Indian tennis player Sania Mirza amid much controversy and fanfare. The whole episode turned into media frenzy in both India and Pakistan as another Indian woman -- also from Hyderabad, the hometown of Sania -- claimed that she was the first wife of the skipper and wanted public divorce. Shoaib first denied marrying her but ultimately agreed to divorce her in a deal brokered by local Muslim elders.

The couple finally tied the knot on April 12. That should have been the end of the story but that was not the case. The marriage turned into a national issue in both countries where Indians started accusing Sania of being a traitor for marrying a Pakistani. People in Pakistan, on the other hand, were jubilant that Shoaib had married an Indian woman who is also a sports celebrity. Many termed it as some kind of a moral victory over India where Sania chose a Pakistani for marriage over millions of eligible Indians.

While the dust has started to settle in India, there is a windstorm of emotions in Pakistan. The recent arrival of the newly weds from India has caused a renewed media frenzy in Pakistan where every TV channel -- and newspaper -- is trying to outdo each other in reporting the activities of the new couple. The madness has even reached the highest seat of power as a federal minister of Pakistan flew to Hyderabad to attend the wedding and presented Sania with a gilded crown. And that was not the only gift the couple got from the Pakistani government.

They have been given VVIP status and full governmental protocol complete with motorcades, stay in five-star hotels and other perks. Amid all this hullabaloo and fanfare, not a single media outlet in Pakistan has dissected the whole episode and whether the couple actually deserves this protocol.

Shoaib Malik is a controversial figure and has remained embroiled in one controversy after another. He faced a ban after public admission of his involvement in match-fixing during a regional tournament. He is now facing another ban of one year on charges of questionable activities from the Pakistan Cricket Board (he has since challenged that ban). And he does not enjoy a favorable rating among his team members because of his snobbish and disrespectful attitude.

There were speculations in the media that he had to pay 150 million rupees to his first wife to settle the divorce controversy. There are also some reports that he has purchased a luxurious abode in Dubai worth millions of dollars. How come he has so much money given the fact that cricketers do not even make a fraction of what is paid to professional footballers and baseball players for a single season? Even if these reports are rumors, PCB inquiry over match fixing and other controversies do not paint a very rosy picture of him.

Given his scandalous credentials, Pakistanis should have given no attention to this controversial cricketer let alone making him a national hero of epic proportions. But, his marriage to an Indian superstar has purged him of all his sins. Does this mean that every criminal in Pakistan and every corrupt politician and army general can earn big favors and vindicate themselves of all their crimes by simply marrying Indian celebrities? This attitude is nothing short of shameful and despicable. Pakistanis need to grow up. There are many unsung heroes in Pakistan fighting poverty and extremism. We need to revere and idolize them, not a controversial sports personality.