‘Afghan Girl’: National Geographic cover star arrested

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(BBC) An Afghan woman immortalised on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985 as a green-eyed 12-year-old has been arrested in Pakistan for holding fake identity papers, officials say.

Sharbat Gula could face a fine and up to 14 years in jail.

Sharbat Gula was famously photographed by Steve McCurry (pictured) - who tracked her down again 17 years later (Photo: AFP/  Getty Images)
Sharbat Gula was famously photographed by Steve McCurry (pictured) – who tracked her down again 17 years later (Photo: AFP/ Getty Images)

Officials say she was arrested by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) after a two-year probe in Peshawar, near the Afghan border.

Pakistan recently launched a crackdown against fake IDs.

Mrs Gula allegedly applied for an identity card in April 2014, using the name Sharbat Bibi. If the fraud claims are true, she is one of thousands of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan who have tried to dodge its computerised system.

An official from the National Database Registration Authority (Nadra) said the FIA was seeking three staff who had issued Mrs Gula’s ID. They have been missing since the alleged fraud was reported.

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reports that ID cards were issued to Mrs Gula and two men who claimed to be her sons.

A Nadra source told the paper: “They may not be her sons, but this is a common practice among Afghan refugees whereby they list names of non-relatives as their children to obtain documents.”

The celebrated “Afghan girl” picture of Mrs Gula was taken in 1984 in a refugee camp in north-west Pakistan, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It led to one of the most recognisable magazine covers ever printed.

In 2002, photographer Steve McCurry tracked his subject down after 17 years of searching. At that time, Mrs Gula was living in a remote Afghan village with her baker husband and three daughters.

After hearing rumours of Mrs Gula’s arrest, Mr McCurry posted the iconic picture on Instagram and wrote: “Two hours ago, I got word from a friend in Peshawar, Pakistan, that Sharbat Gula has been arrested. We are doing everything we can to get the facts by contacting our colleagues and friends in the area.

“I am committed to doing anything and everything possible to provide legal and financial support for her and her family.

“I object to this action by the authorities in the strongest possible terms. She has suffered throughout her entire life, and her arrest is an egregious violation of her human rights.”

Pakistan’s push against foreigners getting fake ID cards through fraud has detected 60,675 cards in the hands of non-nationals, officials say.

Recent UN figures show that Pakistan hosts 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees. A further one million unregistered refugees are believed to be in the country.

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