An Afghan woman immortalised on a celebrated National Geographic magazine cover as a green-eyed 12-year-old was arrested yesterday for living in Pakistan on fraudulent identity papers.
The haunting image of Sharbat Gula, taken in a Pakistan refugee camp by photographer Steve McCurry in the 1980s, became one of the most famous cover images in the magazine’s history.
She now faces up to 14 years in jail in an episode which 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 Gula for fraud following a two-year investigation in the northwestern city of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan.
National Database Registration Authority spokesman Shahid Ilyas said the authorities were also seeking three officials found responsible for issuing a Pakistan national identity card to Gula.
Ilyas said that Gula faced seven to14 years in prison and a fine of up to$5 000 (R69 400) if convicted.
The original image of Gula was taken in 1984 in a refugee camp in northwest Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
McCurry tracked her down later, after a 17-year search, to a remote Afghan village in 2002 where she was married.