The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Thursday distanced itself from Sharbat Gula, Nat Geo’s famed ‘Afghan Girl’ who has been detained by authorities in Pakistan for alleged forgery .
The United Nation’s refugee agency in Pakistan claimed that Sharbat Gula - known as Afghanistan’s green-eyed Mona Lisa - is not a registered refugee.
“We cannot extend any assistance to the detained Afghan woman as she is not registered refugee with UNHCR,” Senior External Relations Officer UNHCR Pakistan Dan McNorton told Dawn.com.
Sharbat Gula, who fled Afghanistan during Soviet occupation shot to fame after her photograph as a young refugee was published on the cover of National Geographic back in 1985 on her arrival to Peshawar.
Gula was arrested a day earlier from her Peshawar residence by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for alleged forgery of a Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC).
She faces seven to 14 years prison time and fine between $3,000 to $5,000 if convicted by court over fraud, a National Database Registration Authority (Nadra) official said Wednesday.
Nadra’s vigilance department and an official of the FIA rejected information provided on the Nadra form as fake, and the FIA official ordered cancellation of CNICs of Gula and her alleged sons.
Details of the form had claimed that Sharbat Gula had two sons. The FIA official maintained that she has two daughters and a two-year-old son.
According to the UN refugee agency, the first census of Afghan refugees in Pakistan started in 2006 and the refugees that turned out at registration offices got Proof of Registration (PoR) cards thus getting permission of their legitimate stay in Pakistan.
“I think Sharbat Bibi missed that opportunity and could not register herself as refugee,” Duniya Aslam Khan explained when asked as to why the refugee agency could not register her.
The UNHCR was contacted by Afghan diplomats in Islamabad anticipating that she will be rescued by the refugee agency for being refugee.
Expressing concern over the arrest of Sharbat Gula, the Afghan government has decided to take up the issue with Pakistani government, sources said Thursday.
An official at the Afghan Consulate in Peshawar told DawnNews the Afghan government will pursue the case in a Pakistani court and provide a lawyer and legal assistance to Gula, who is an Afghan national.
“She is an Afghan national and our embassy in Islamabad will take up the case with the Foreign Office for early release of Sharbat Gula,” he said, requesting not to be named.
Quoting family members, the official said Sharbat Bibi was not feeling well and they were also worried about her health.
Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Dr Omer Zakhilwal tweeted in Pashto saying the Afghan government will help rescue the detained Afghan woman from police custody and will rehabilitate her in Afghanistan.
Sharbat Gula became famously known as the ‘Afghan Girl’ when National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry captured her photograph at the Nasir Bagh refugee camp situated on the edge of Peshawar in 1984 and identified her as Sharbat Gula.
She gained worldwide recognition when her image was featured on the cover of the June 1985 issue of National Geographic Magazine at a time when she was approximately 12 years old.
That photo has been likened with Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
National Geographic also made a short documentary about her life and dubbed her the ‘Mona Lisa of Afghan war’.
She remained anonymous for years after her first photo made her an icon around the world and until she was discovered by National Geographic in 2002
Meanwhile the American photographer who took the iconic National Geographic image of Gula in 1985 has vowed to do “anything possible” to help after reports she has been arrested in Pakistan.
Photographer Steve McCurry posted to Instagram that this was “an egregious violation of her human rights”.
He wrote: “We are doing everything we can to get the facts by contacting our colleagues and friends in the area.
“I am committed to doing anything and everything possible to provide legal and financial support for her and her family.
“I object to this action by the authorities in the strongest possible terms. She has suffered throughout her entire life.”