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Pakistan To Deport Woman From Famed 'Afghan Girl' Photo

The owner of a bookstore shows a copy of <em>National Geographic</em> magazine with the 1984 photograph of Sharbat Gula in Islamabad, when she was around 12 years old.
B.K. Bangash
The owner of a bookstore shows a copy of National Geographic magazine with the 1984 photograph of Sharbat Gula in Islamabad, when she was around 12 years old.

A Pakistani court has ordered the deportation of Sharbat Gula — the "Afghan girl" with arresting green eyes in the famous National Geographic photo.

That image was taken in 1984 at a refugee camp in Pakistan after Gula fled her native country when her parents were killed by a Soviet airstrike.

She has spent most of her life outside of Afghanistan, and now a judge says she must return there after completing a 15-day jail sentence and paying a fine of about $950, Reuters reports.

Gula, who is also known as Sharbat Bibi and is now in her 40s, was found guilty Friday of "illegally obtaining a Pakistani identity card," the wire service reports. Reuters adds that Gula was taken into custody last Wednesday and spent part of that time in the hospital "to treat a fever and high blood pressure."

As The Two-Way has reported, "the case against Gula first made headlines in February 2015, when officials said she had used fake information — including a claim that she was born in Pakistan — to get a Computerized National Identity Card along with two men who said they are her sons."

The case was then referred to Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency.

"Gula is one of several million Afghans in Pakistan who've sought refuge from war back home. Most are registered refugees, but many are undocumented," as NPR's Philip Reeves told Morning Edition last week. He said the Pakistani government is pushing plans to repatriate Afghans from the country, with a deadline coming up this spring. Here's more from Philip:

"The United Nations says there's already a big surge in Afghans returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan — 50,000 crossed in one week alone. A rise in the small grant paid to returning refugees may be a factor, but Afghans say they're constantly harassed by the Pakistani police. They say the mood toward them changed when militants massacred around 130 Pakistani schoolkids in 2014. Afghans were suspected of harboring terrorists. Reports began to circulate of Afghans being hounded out of jobs and homes and refused ID papers.

"In fact, many of these Afghans were born in Pakistan or haven't lived in their homeland since the Soviets were there. U.N. officials worry about what will happen to them in Afghanistan. They warn of a humanitarian disaster after winter begins. ... Many people, including Pakistanis, want the authorities to drop [Gula's] case. But it's just one part of a much bigger tragedy."

Gula's lawyer told the court earlier this week that she "is the sole bread winner of her family and is currently suffering from Hepatitis C," according to Pakistani news site Dawn. Her husband has died, Dawn reports.

She is also a mother of four, The Associated Press reports, and it's not clear what will happen to the children if she gets deported.

Afghanistan's ambassador to Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal, called the judge's order "good news" and said that Gula is now "free from the legal troubles she endured over the past couple of weeks." In a post on Facebook, he said she will be received by President Ashraf Ghani when she arrives in Afghanistan and that she remains "a beloved image and a national icon."

Amnesty International called the decision to deport Gula a "grave injustice." The group's South Asia director, Champa Patel, said that "by sending her back to a country she hasn't seen in a generation and her children have never known, her plight has become emblematic of Pakistan's cruel treatment of Afghan refugees."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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