Afghan Girl From Iconic National Geographic Cover Faces 14 Years in Prison
Afghan Girl From Iconic National Geographic Cover Faces 14 Years in Prison

An Afghan woman whose image became known around the world after she was featured on the cover of the National Geographic magazine over 30 years ago has been arrested by Pakistani officials, according to local reports.

Sharbat Gula was taken into custody by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Oct. 26 after a lengthy investigation in Peshawar, reportedly uncovered that she’d been residing in Pakistan illegally. 

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported that in 2014, Gula had allegedly applied for a fake Pakistani identification card under the name “Sharbat Bibi.” On the application, she allegedly listed her date of birth as “Jan 1, 1969” and stated that she resided at Talab Road, Nauthia Qadeem, Mohallah Mast Gul, Peshawar.

The following year, she and her sons—Rauf Khan and Wali Khan—were issued national identity cards by the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA).

However, officials said Gula reportedly has two daughters and a two-year-old son and relatives at the listed address were unable to identify her sons as occupants of the house.

“They may not be her sons but this is a common practice among Afghan refugees whereby they list names of non-relatives as their children to obtain documents,” the source said.

Another official added, “Every entry in that form was false and fake. It was so obvious. There was no cross-check and no verification.”

It is unknown if Gula is a registered Afghan refugee. The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates that 1,459,146 Afghan refugees are living in Pakistan.

However, this year has also seen an increase of Afghans leaving Pakistan and returning back to their native country. Nearly 7,400 Afghans are returning daily according to the United Nations.

The three staff members who allegedly issued the fake IDs have disappeared since the alleged fraud was reported and they are being sought by the FIA.

Gula, who is widely known as “Afghan Girl” gained worldwide recognition at age 12 after she was photographed at the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in 1984 by National Geographic Magazine photographer Steve McCurry. Her image was featured on the cover of the June 1985 issue of the magazine and is perhaps one of the most iconic magazine covers of all-time. She again graced the cover in 2002.

McCurry took to Instagram to condemn Gula’s arrest, citing her civil rights have been violated.

“Two hours ago, I got word from a friend in Peshawar, Pakistan, that Sharbat Gula has been arrested. We are doing everything we can to get the facts by contacting our colleagues and friends in the area,” he captioned the famous photo of Gula.

“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, and her arrest is an egregious violation of her human rights.”

Gula faces seven to 14 years in prison and a fine between $3,000 to $5,000, if convicted of fraud.

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