A Wedding To Start A War

Posted by Ahmed Quraishi on Apr 22nd, 2010

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Hindu extremists burning the effigy of Sania Mirza after she announced she was marrying a Pakistani celebrity.

How the wedlock between a Pakistani sportsman and an Indian tennis player is a PR disaster for India and holds implications for relations with Pakistan   

A sign of Pakistan-India peace? Hardly. Read how the celebrity wedding was loaded with the kind of symbolism that rattled India and sent the wrong signals to Pakistan   

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Trust me, this is a wedding that India never wants to see again. Ever.    

Never before has a wedding tested India’s relations with Pakistan and created new misunderstandings that will echo for a long time to come. [Yes, we're still talking geopolitics.]   

American and British commentators piled over each other to welcome the wedding between Pakistan’s ace cricketer Shoaib Malik and India’s star tennis player Sania Mirza as an event that would bring Pakistan and India closer.   

Instead, it exposed ugly Indian insecurities, especially the rampant anti-Pakistanism in India not just in New Delhi but also among ordinary Indians. This is in sharp contrast to the warmth shown to Indians at all times in Pakistan, regardless of tense official relations.    

While most Pakistanis innocently celebrated the wedding as a chance for peace, Indians wore long faces, like a parent angry at a daughter who’s ran away to marry the wrong man. Forget peace, Indians fretted that Mirza, a Muslim, might ditch India and start representing her husband’s country Pakistan at international tournaments.   

A composite picture published by an Indian newspaper meant to show that Sania Mirza 'ditched' India.

Indians, both in and out of government, did everything they could from day one to scuttle the wedding. When nothing worked they unleashed scrawny saffron-clad Hindu extremists to scare Sania Mirza and her parents for ‘betraying’ India. When that failed, New Delhi confiscated the Pakistani sportsman’s passport on a lousy excuse while the Indian media went digging up dirt on the Pakistani young man to dissuade Mirza’s family from going ahead with the wedding.    

The irony is that India’s few noisy in Pakistan staked their reputations on this wedding; almost convincing Pakistanis that the wedding was a sign India was dying to be friends with their country. They never dreamed that India would instead be dying of jealousy and petty antagonism.    


What everyone missed was that the wedding was loaded with symbolism of the type that rattles India’s nerves.   

First, the Pakistani sportsman married a fellow Muslim. That undercut Indian government’s claim that Indian Muslims are not attracted to everything Pakistani, and vice versa.  Indian officials watch such happenings closely. Had the Pakistani married an Indian Hindu, Indian media managers would have seized the wedding to bolster their favorite line of propaganda about how Pakistan is a lost part of India that needs to atone for its sins and come home  [This is one of many historical delusions that Indians relish and which continue to inform official Indian mindset toward Pakistan, ignoring that India itself never existed before the Brits created it in 1947 out of what used to be a Muslim empire, but that's another story].    



Then there’s the symbolism of Sania Mirza’s hometown Hyderabad-Deccan. The city-state was one of the richest Muslim princely states for centuries, ruled by Turkic-Persian Muslim elite whose descendants include people such as the Mirzas. The rich state almost joined Pakistan in

An Indian comment maker on explains why Mirza is really not an Indian. This is an accurate and rare insight into the unique historical dynamics that affect relations between Pakistan and India.

1947 when India invaded and forcibly annexed it. Pakistan was too weak then to contest the occupation. Now imagine the irony: a celebrity girl emerging seventy years later from that city to marry a Pakistani?  This is not good for Indian ego.   

Interestingly, many Muslim natives of the city are Pakistani citizens who live in Pakistan. Local weddings involving a bride or a groom from Pakistan are common. And this freaks out Indian authorities.      

The third symbolism that rattles India is that Muslim natives of Sania Mirza’s city face religious discrimination despite India’s claim to secularism. Just a few weeks before the wedding, India’s majority Hindus waged pitched battles in the streets and alleys against the city’s Muslim natives.  A high-profile wedding that links these Indian Muslims to Pakistan is bad influence considering the timing.   

Even worse as far as timings go, on the eve of Sania’s wedding with Pakistan’s star, an American-Indian Muslim group slammed Indian authorities for trying to protect Hindu extremist groups during the probe into the riots.

But these are Indian insecurities from an Indian perspective. What Pakistanis saw from their side was confirmation of India’s record of being hostile to Pakistanis despite lip service to peace.   

Indian visitors have never been humiliated in Pakistan in the past 63 years. Not a single incident can be cited. In contrast, a Pakistani delegation that returned from India as recently as December 2009 spoke of mistreatment. One visitor said, “They treated us like dogs. Do we treat them like this when they come here?”   

In fact, thousands of Indian pilgrims visit their holy sites in Pakistan each year. Year in and year out, they are received as heroes by Pakistani authorities in an effort to send them back as ambassadors of Pakistan in India. And this has been going on for at least the past two decades.   

In return, Indian small-mindedness seems to know no bounds.   

In 2006, when both Pakistan and India launched a friendship train called Samjota to help citizens visit both countries, 59 Pakistanis were burned alive when the train was returning from the Indian capital to Pakistan. It turned out that Indian military intelligence officers connived with Hindu terror groups to sabotage the train. The unlucky Pakistanis believed Indian media’s – and their own Pakistani media’s – hype about peace and traveled to India never to return alive.   

Deep inside, Indians are vindictive when it comes to Pakistan. Indians have been given a steady dose of anti-Pakistanism over the past 63 years and told in as many words that Pakistan is an illegal construct, somehow ‘stolen’ from India. And justice must be done. I leave it to your imagination what that justice would look like if India has its way with Pakistan.   

One Indian politician went as far as accusing Mirza of betraying her country because she married a Pakistani. The poor girl and her family were so terrified she finally had to release a statement insisting she married the man and not his country.   

Facing this Indian meanness, Pakistan could have made small gestures to make its displeasure known but didn’t, mostly out of incompetence since Pakistani governments are not media savvy anyway.   

Pakistan could have scored a point by issuing a statement on the anti-Muslim riots in Hyderabad-Deccan as a way of getting back at India for the way they treated Pakistani sportsman Malik. But Pakistan didn’t.  What’s even more startling is that the Pakistani federal minister who was ordered by Prime Minister Gilani to travel to India to attend the famous wedding refused to meet with the aggrieved local Muslims of the city in order not to embarrass the host government.
All in all, India wasted a great chance to win the Pakistani public opinion. As for Pakistanis, the whole episode confirms what we already know about the Indian intolerance and unease when dealing with anything that has to do with Pakistan. Hopefully, this analysis will also help our friends in the world understand the psychology behind Indian intransigence in resolving problems and making peace with Pakistan.   

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