Green-Eyed 'Afghan Girl' Could Spend Up To 14 Years In Prison

The ‘Afghan girl’ from a renowned National Geographic cover was released from jail in Pakistan, where she was on the radar for identity fraud for two years.

national geographic cover girl


According to The Independent, Sharbat Gula has been granted bail and is expected to be released from jail on Tuesday after being arrested last week for identity fraud.

Pakistan's Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said on Sunday, "I think I will have to review this case because she is a woman and we should see it from a humanitarian angle."

The Interior Minister said that her case will be carefully reviewed, taking into consideration the necessary penalties for the officials who issued her the ID card. He continued, "If we withdraw charges against her, deport her, or give her a temporary visa to leave Pakistan, then we will have to take back cases against the officials who issued her the fake ID card."

Gula's arrest last Wednesday led to international outcry over the humanitarian plight of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, whose home country has been ravaged by war for decades. According to Slate, the second largest group of refugees after Syrians come from Afghanistan, with more than 380,000 having left Afghanistan this year.

Fame doesn't necessarily lead to fortune.

USA Today reported that the green-eyed “Afghan girl” from an iconic National Geographic cover was arrested from her home Wednesday for corruption charges. The woman, Sharbat Gula, was about 12 years old when she appeared on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic.

The 1984 photo of her, which was taken at a refugee camp in Peshawar by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry, became a symbol of the plight of Afghan refugees during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. After 9/11, the George W. Bush administration also used her image as propaganda for the war against the Taliban.

For the last two years, Gula has been known to federal agents for falsifying identification documents on which she’s been living illegally as a refugee in Peshawar, Pakistan, near the Afghanistan border. She is being accused of applying for a Pakistani national identity card under the name “Sharbat Bibi” in 2014.

Officials say that at least 60,675 fake ID cards are known to be circulating in the country, so why was she unduly plucked out from the crowd? Perhaps Gula was targeted unfairly by authorities based on her international fame, which now hovers over her to this day some thirty years later.

national geographic afghan girl

Shahid Ilyas, an official of the Federal Investigation Agency, told AFP on Wednesday, “FIA arrested Sharbat Gula, an Afghan woman, today for obtaining a fake ID card.”

Three officials of the National Database Registration Authority, which issues ID cards, are also being pursued for assisting Gula in obtaining the false papers. But, according to BBC News, these officials are reported to now be “missing.”

If convicted of fraud, Gula could spend up to 14 years in prison and be forced to pay a $3,000 to $5,000 fine. She allegedly helped her two sons get fake ID cards as well.

According to United Nations figures, Pakistan hosts approximately 2.4 million Afghan refugees, one million of which are living undocumented.

nat geo green eyed girl

Security crackdowns in the north western border region of Pakistan have led to the expulsion of countless refugees which has likely increased identity fraud, according to the Human Rights Watch. The HRW has recommended that Pakistan treat all refugees from Afghanistan equally, regardless of whether they are registered or not — considering the harrowing living conditions their country is encountering.

It’s unfortunate that federal authorities are harassing Afghan residents living on fake papers like Gul, as their time could be more productively spent uprooting militants rather than helpless women and their children. 

Banner photo credit: Twitter, @ShivAroor

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