Pak­istan set to de­port Nat Geo’s ‘Afghan Girl’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

PE­SHAWAR:

An Afghan woman im­mor­tal­ized on a Na­tional Ge­o­graphic cover will be sent back to the war-torn home­land she first fled decades ago, af­ter a Pak­istani court or­dered yes­ter­day that she be de­ported. Shar­bat Gula, whose blaz­ing green eyes were cap­tured in an im­age taken in a Pak­istan refugee camp by pho­tog­ra­pher Steve McCurry in the 1980s that be­came the magazine’s most fa­mous cover in his­tory, was ar­rested last week.

She was ac­cused of liv­ing in Pak­istan on fraud­u­lent iden­tity pa­pers fol­low­ing a two-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion, one of thou­sands of refugees us­ing fake ID cards. The il­lit­er­ate mother-of-four pleaded guilty yes­ter­day, her lawyer Mubashar Nazar told AFP, and the court sen­tenced her to 15 days im­pris­on­ment and a 110,000 Pak­istani ru­pee ($1,050) fine. “She has al­ready spent 11 days in jail,” Nazar said, mean­ing she could be freed as early as Mon­day. An Afghan consulate of­fi­cial said that the fine im­posed on Gula has al­ready been paid and con­firmed she would be re­leased Mon­day.

“We... will take her to Afghanistan in an hon­ourable way on Mon­day,” Ab­dul Hameed Jalili, coun­selor for refugees at the Afghan consulate in Pe­shawar, told AFP. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional slammed the de­ci­sion, call­ing it a “grave in­jus­tice”. “For decades, she was known as the world’s most fa­mous refugee and seen as a sym­bol of Pak­istan’s sta­tus as a gen­er­ous host,” said Champa Pa­tel, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s South Asia Di­rec­tor. “Now, by send­ing her back to a coun­try she hasn’t seen in a gen­er­a­tion and her chil­dren have never known, her plight has be­come em­blem­atic of Pak­istan’s cruel treat­ment of Afghan refugees.”

‘Se­ri­ous rights abuses’

The 1985 Na­tional Ge­o­graphic im­age of Gula, then aged 12, made her the face of Afghanistan’s decades-long refugee cri­sis. Af­ter a 17-year search, the pho­tog­ra­pher McCurry tracked Gula down to a re­mote Afghan vil­lage in 2002 where she was mar­ried to a baker and the mother of three daugh­ters at the time.

Pak­istani of­fi­cials say she ap­plied for the fraud­u­lent ID card in Pe­shawar in 2014. The photo at­tached to the ap­pli­ca­tion has the same pierc­ing green eyes and sculpted face seen in McCurry’s fa­mous im­age, only lined by age and sur­rounded by a black hi­jab cov­er­ing her hair com­pletely. Her chil­dren will also re­turn with her. Gula, who is suf­fer­ing from hep­ati­tis C, has told me­dia her hus­band passed away sev­eral years ago.

Gula’s plight high­lights the des­per­ate mea­sures many Afghans are will­ing to take to avoid re­turn­ing to their wartorn home­land as Pak­istan cracks down on un­doc­u­mented for­eign­ers. Pak­istan has for decades pro­vided safe haven for mil­lions of Afghans who fled their coun­try af­ter the Soviet in­va­sion of 1979. But since July hun­dreds of thou­sands have re­turned to Afghanistan in a des­per­ate ex­o­dus amid fears of a crack­down, as Pak­istan’s famed hospitality ran out. —AFP

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