The ‘Afghan Girl,’ the subject of Steve McCurry’s iconic photograph which made the 1985 cover of National Geographic magazine, was recently in the news for having been arrested in Pakistan. Sharbat Gula, whose face became the global image of war-torn Afghanistan, is now back in her homeland after being deported by Pakistan for having used fraudulent documentation to live in the country.
Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority has stated that Gula falsely claimed to have been born in Pakistan to obtain a Pakistani National Identity Card. She pleaded guilty to the charge in a court in Peshawar, Pakistan, after which she was slapped with a 15-day jail sentence, as well as a fine of US $1,100. While she could have faced up to 14 years of imprisonment, her plea – along with pressure from the Afghan government for leniency, taking into consideration her ill health and several dependent children – contributed to the relatively less severe sentence.
Gula, who had lived in Pakistan most of her life, was welcomed back to her native Afghanistan by President Ashraf Ghani at a ceremony held at his presidential palace in Kabul. As reported by Reuters, in his speech welcoming her, Ghani stated, ‘I’ve said repeatedly, and I like to repeat it again, that our country is incomplete until we absorb all of our refugees.’ He even promised a furnished apartment for Gula to live with ‘dignity and security in her homeland.’
Now in her forties, Gula was around 12 when her photograph became the cover image of the June 1985 issue of National Geographic magazine, becoming one of its most famous covers yet. The image is also said to be the most recognized photograph ever featured in the magazine. Featuring Gula draped in a red scarf and gazing into the camera with haunting green eyes, the photograph was even likened to Leonardo da Vinci’s painting ‘The Mona Lisa’ and dubbed ‘the First World’s Third World Mona Lisa.’
Pakistan, which has been absorbing millions of Afghan refugees ever since the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, has been attempting various repatriation programs. It has recently dramatically intensified its efforts to return refugees to war-torn Afghanistan, having repatriated more than 200,000 refugees this year – half of whom returned home this past September alone.