National Geographic magazine cover’s ‘Afghan girl’ arrested in Pakistan

October 27, 2016 6:00 am

’s Inam Khan, owner of a book shop shows a copy of National Geographic magazine with the photograph of Afghan refugee woman Sharbat Gulla, from his rare collection. Photo / AP

An Afghan woman, immortalised on a celebrated National Geographic magazine cover as a green-eyed 12-year-old girl, has been arrested for living in Pakistan on fraudulent identity papers.
The haunting image of Sharbat Gula, taken in a Pakistan refugee camp by acclaimed photographer Steve McCurry in the 1980s, became the most famous cover image in the magazine’s history.
Her arrest 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 Ms Gula for fraud following a two-year investigation into her and her husband, who has absconded.

Photographer Steve McCurry captured the haunting image of Sharbat Gula in a Pakistan refugee camp. Photo / AP


“FIA arrested Sharbat Gula, an Afghan woman, for obtaining a fake ID card,” Shahid Ilyas, an official of the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA), said.Investigators, who have uncovered thousands of fraud cases over the last decade, launched a probe into her application shortly after she procured the card.
Mr Ilyas said the authorities were also seeking three NADRA officials found responsible for issuing Pakistan’s national identity card to Ms Gula, who have been at large since the fraud was uncovered.
He said that Ms Gula faces seven to 14 years in prison and a fine of US$3000-US$5000 if convicted.
In reality she is unlikely to serve such a harsh sentence – many Afghans who have been convicted in similar cases have been deported before they could be sent to prison.
Officials say Ms Gula applied for a Pakistani identity card in Peshawar in April 2014 using the name Sharbat Bibi. Thousands of Afghan refugees have managed to dodge Pakistan’s computerised system to get an identity card.
The photo attached to her application featured the same piercing green eyes seen in Mr McCurry’s famous image, only older.
The original photograph was taken in 1984 in a refugee camp in northwest Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of .
Mr 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.
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