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