The green-eyed Afghan woman immortalised on a 1985 cover of National Geographic magazine was on Wednesday refused bail by a Pakistani court, prompting the Afghan envoy to urge Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to intervene in her case.
The bail application of Sharbat Gula, 46, was turned down by a court in Peshawar. She was arrested last week by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for fraudulently obtaining a Pakistani ID card, a charge she has denied.
On Tuesday, Sharbat Gula’s lawyer told the Peshawar high court that she had Hepatitis C. Earlier, interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had said he had asked the FIA to facilitate her release on humanitarian grounds.
Afghan ambassador Omar Zakhilwal, who had expressed confidence that Sharbat Gula would be freed, said in a Facebook post that he was dismayed by the court’s decision.
He said that “despite assurances given by the interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and other government leaders the bail to free Sharbat Gula from incarceration in Peshawar was rejected today”.
“Despite being world famous, Sharbat Gula is a poor widow and the sole head of her family, comprising four children. She is sick, suffering from hepatitis which claimed the lives of her husband and elder daughter in the recent past,” he said.
“At this stage I call on the Honourable Prime Minister of Pakistan, to whom I will also send a formal request, to intervene with this case himself to instruct the release of Sharbat Gula.”
Noting that the woman’s arrest had “hurt the feelings of all Afghans”, Zakhilwal said the court’s ruling was a “further disregard to those feelings and the bilateral people-to-people relations”. If the Pakistan government wants to free Sharbat Gula, then she “need not be subjected to court appearances and rulings” as authorities could withdraw the charges against her, he added.
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”.
Afghans say Sharbat Gula belonged to eastern Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan. She lost her parents at the age of six in an attack by fighter jets during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
She later migrated to Pakistan with her brother, three sisters and grandmother and married Rehmat Gul, a baker living near Peshawar, in 1990. The couple had three daughters.