Sharbat Gula, the young Afghan girl featured on a 1985 National Geographic cover, was arrested today in Pakistan on charges of fraudulently obtaining national identity cards for herself and her family.
The New York Times reports that authorities arrested Gula Wednesday in her home in Peshawar. Authorities had been investigating her whereabouts for at least a year. “It took us a while to collect all the evidence against her, and the officials involved in helping her and her two sons get Pakistani national identity cards,” said Shahid Ilyas, the assistant director of the Federal Investigation Authority. Gula had apparently obtained an illegal Pakistani identity card in 1988 and a computerized identity card in 2014, while also holding onto her Afghani passport.
You probably didn’t know Gula’s name until very recently, but her face is very familiar. Photographer Steve McCurry took the picture of a 12 year old Gula in red scarf directly facing the camera in the ‘80s and her image came to stand as a symbol of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. Her arrest is part of a larger initiative by the Pakistani government to crack down on the number of Afghan refugees who have been driven across the border by war and unrest.
According to Gerry Simpson of the Refugee Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, 1.5 million Afghans living in Pakistan have “proof of registration cards,” protecting them from deportation. The rest resorted to using false identity cards and face the possibility of repatriation. If convicted, Gula faces a $3,000 to $5,000 fine and up to 14 years in prison.
When McCurry was notified of Gula’s arrest, he said: “We object to this action by the authorities in the strongest possible terms. She has suffered throughout her entire life, and we believe that her arrest is an egregious violation of her human rights.”