The Afghan Girl, Still a Refugee, Arrested for Forged Pakistani ID Card

Pakistan is cracking down on Afghan refugees.

Steve McCurry, Sharbat Gula, Afghan Girl, Pakistan (1984).Photo: Courtesy of artnet Auctions
Steve McCurry, Sharbat Gula, Afghan Girl, Pakistan (1984). Courtesy of artnet Auctions.

Sharbat Gula isn’t a household name, but her piercing green eyes captivated the world in Steve McCurry’s famed portrait Afghan Girl, which appeared on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic. Now a grown woman, Gula was arrested on October 26 by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in Peshawar, Pakistan, for having a forged computerized national identity card, or CNIC, reports Agence France Presse.

The 1984 photograph, taken in a Pakistani refugee camp when she was probably just 12 years old, made Gula an icon. All the same, she remained anonymous until 2002, when she was finally tracked down and interviewed by National Geographic. At the time, Gula was back in her native Afghanistan, but she appears to have once again fled her war-torn country in the years since.

Under the name Sharbat Bibi, Gula, along with her two sons, reportedly applied for and received a CNIC in April 2014. Foreign nationals are not eligible for the document, which is often illegally obtained through bribes and fake papers. Gula’s ID photograph was first discovered and published by the press in February 2015, but the card was not seized by authorities until now.

Sharbat Gula's photograph for her illegally-obtained Pakistani ID card.

Sharbat Gula’s photograph for her illegally-obtained Pakistani ID card.

Shahid Ilyas, an official of the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA), told AFP that Gula could face up to 14 years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. The FIA is reportedly trying to catch the three NADRA officials who issued Gula the card.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and that there could be up to a million more who remain undocumented.

Gula’s arrest is part of Pakistan’s efforts to crack down on these foreign residents, which have so far uncovered 60,675 fraudulent ID cards. The UN reports that 350,000 refugees have returned to Afghanistan so far this year. According to the Guardian, undocumented Afghans in Pakistan have been dealing with harassment, and have had their cell phones and bank accounts shut down.

The country has reportedly announced that unregistered refugees must return to Afghanistan by March 2017. Previously deadlines dating back to 2009 have been extended, but those potentially affected allegedly believe Pakistan is looking to enforce this one.

“We need them to leave Pakistan because we are badly suffering,” Hamid-ul-Haq, who represents Peshawar in Pakistan’s parliament, told the Guardian in 2015. “All our streets, mosques, schools are overloaded because of them. It is time for them to leave Pakistan honorably.”


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