Pakistani authorities on Wednesday arrested the famous green-eyed “Afghan girl” immortalised on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985 for living in the country with fraudulent identity papers.
Sharbat Gula was arrested with two men, said to be her sons, and it is believed the trio will be deported. An official of Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) also said she could face seven to 14 years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000 if convicted by court of fraud.
She was taken into custody by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) from her home in Nothia area of Peshawar for possessing an illegal Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC), FIA officials said.
The FIA is conducting a drive against Afghan nationals illegally living in Pakistan. Officials began investigating Sharbat Gula last year after she was found living in the country with a fraudulent identity card.
In February last year, news emerged that Sharbat Gula and two men, said to be her sons, had been issued computerised identity cards. The FIA is also looking for three NADRA officials who issued the cards.
Sharbat Gula, now in her forties, appealed to the NADRA chief to form an inquiry committee to expose persons involved in the matter as authorities in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province had failed to act. The committee confirmed the identity cards were fake.
In 1984, National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry took the haunting image of Sharbat Gula, then aged about 12, at Nasir Bagh refugee camp on the edge of Peshawar. The photo, which became the most famous cover image in the magazine’s history, was likened to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
After a 17-year search, McCurry tracked Sharbat Gula in 2002 to a remote Afghan village, where she was married to a baker and the mother of three daughters. National Geographic also made a documentary about her life that dubbed her the “Mona Lisa of the Afghan war”.
Some three million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan, especially in the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and the semi-autonomous tribal areas. Many Afghans fled their country after the Soviet invasion in 1979 and some obtained identity papers in a bid to stay on in Pakistan.
(With inputs from agencies)