National Geographic ‘Afghan girl’ arrested in Pakistan
PESHAWAR, PakistanAn Afghan woman immortalized on a celebrated National Geographic magazine cover as a green-eyed 12-year-old girl was arrested Oct. 26 for living in Pakistan on fraudulent identity papers.
The haunting image of Sharbat Gula, taken in a Pakistan refugee camp by photographer Steve McCurry in the 1980s, became the most famous cover image in the magazine’s history.
She now faces up to 14 years in jail - in an episode which highlights the desperate measures many Afghans are willing to take to avoid returning to their war-torn homeland as Pakistan cracks down on undocumented foreigners.
Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested Gula for fraud following a two-year investigation in the northwestern city of Peshawar, the capital of restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan.
“FIA arrested Sharbat Gula, an Afghan woman, for obtaining a fake ID card,” Shahid Ilyas, an official of the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA), told AFP.
Ilyas said the authorities were also seeking three NADRA officials found responsible for issuing Pakistan’s national identity card to Gula, who have been at large since the fraud was detected.
He said that Gula faces seven to 14 years in prison and a fine of $3,000-$5,000 if convicted.
Officials say Gula applied for a Pakistani identity card in Peshawar in April 2014, using the name Sharbat Bibi.
She was one of thousands of Afghan refugees who managed to dodge Pakistan’s computerized system to get an identity card.
The original image of Gula was taken in 1984 in a refugee camp in northwest Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
McCurry later tracked her down, after a 17-year search, to a remote Afghan village in 2002 where she was married to a baker and the mother of three daughters.
Pakistan has for decades provided safe haven for millions of Afghans who fled their country after the Soviet invasion of 1979.
The country hosts 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees, according to UNHCR, making it the third-largest refugee hosting nation in the world.
The agency also estimates a further one million unregistered refugees are in the country.