Pakistan: National Geographic’s Afghan girl denied bail

Sharbat Gula, who became iconic photo of her country’s conflict, is accused of using fake ID cards to stay in Pakistan.

McCurry took the photos of Afghan girl Sharbat Gula in the 1980s [Ulrich Perrey/AFP]
McCurry took the photos of Afghan girl Sharbat Gula in the 1980s [Ulrich Perrey/AFP]

A Pakistani court refused bail to an Afghan woman who became famous for her portrait on the National Geographic magazine cover 35 years ago, after she was arrested in Pakistan for using fake identity cards.

Pakistan last week arrested Sharbat Gula, whose haunting green eyes, captured in an image taken in a Pakistan refugee camp by photographer Steve McCurry in the 1980s, became one of the most recognisable photos of Afghanistan’s decades-long conflict.

She was accused of living in the country on fraudulent identity papers after a two-year investigation into her and her husband, who has absconded.

READ MORE: Sharbat Gula – The iconic face of the refugee struggle

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s interior minister, said on Sunday that the country would review her case on the grounds that “she is a woman” and the government “should see it from a humanitarian angle”.

However a judge in the northwestern city of Peshawar rejected bail for Gula, saying she had failed to make her case.

She got both a computerised ID and a manual ID, Judge Farah Jamshed said in a written judgment, “meaning that on both occasions she impersonated herself as Pakistani citizen without legally adopting the status of same”.

Officials say Gula applied for a Pakistani identity card in Peshawar in 2014, using the name Sharbat Bibi.

‘Serious crime’

Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid, reporting from Islamabad, said Gula’s lawyer intends to challenge the decision in a higher court.

“It is a serious crime in Pakistan to be in possession of fake identity cards. It carries a 14-year-term in jail and on top of that a heavy fine,” our correspondent said.

“However, her case is being pursued by the Afghan embassy in Pakistan.”

The Pakistan government has stepped up its crackdown on Afghan refugees, insisting that many attacks in the country had links with Afghanistan and therefore the refugees must now go home.

Gula’s arrest 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.

READ MORE: Afghan returnees from Pakistan endure dire conditions

Pakistan has for decades provided safe haven for millions of Afghans who fled their country after the Soviet invasion of 1979.

Until recently the country had hosted up to 1.4 million Afghan refugees, according to UNHCR, making it the third-largest refugee-hosting nation in the world.

A further one million unregistered refugees are also believed to be in the country.

But since July hundreds of thousands have returned to Afghanistan in a desperate exodus amid fears of a crackdown, as even Pakistan’s famed hospitality has run out.

Last month UNHCR said that more than 350,000 Afghan refugees, documented and undocumented, had returned from Pakistan so far in 2016, adding that it expects a further 450,000 to do so by the year’s end.

Steve McCurry discusses Sharbat Gula’s case

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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