PESHAWAR, Pakistan: An Afghan woman immortalized on a National Geographic cover will be sent back to the war-torn homeland she first fled decades ago, after a Pakistani court ordered Friday that she be deported.
Sharbat Gula, whose blazing green eyes were captured in an image taken in a Pakistan refugee camp by photographer Steve McCurry in the 1980s, was arrested last week.
She was accused of living in Pakistan on fraudulent identity papers following a two-year investigation, one of thousands of refugees using fake ID cards.
The illiterate mother-of-four pleaded guilty Friday, her lawyer Mubashar Nazar told Agence France-Presse, and the court sentenced her to 15 days imprisonment and a 110,000 Pakistani rupee ($1,050) fine.
“She has already spent 11 days in jail,” Nazar said, meaning she could be freed as early as Monday.
“We had requested the court to release her on humanitarian grounds,” he added.
An Afghan consulate official said that the fine imposed on Gula has already been paid and confirmed she would be released Monday.
“We… will take her to Afghanistan in an honorable way on Monday,” Abdul Hameed Jalili, counselor for refugees at the Afghan consulate in Peshawar, told Agence France-Presse.
Her children will also return with her. Gula, who is suffering from hepatitis C, has told media her husband passed away several years ago.
The 1985 National Geographic image of Gula, then aged 12, became the most famous cover in the magazine’s history.
After a 17-year search, the photographer McCurry tracked Gula down to a remote Afghan village in 2002 where she was married to a baker and the mother of three daughters at the time.
Pakistani officials say she applied for the fraudulent ID card in Peshawar in 2014.
The photo attached to the application has the same piercing green eyes and sculpted face seen in McCurry’s famous image only older, lined by age and surrounded by a black hijab covering her hair completely.
Gula’s plight highlights the desperate measures many Afghans are willing to take to avoid returning to their war-torn homeland as Pakistan cracks down on undocumented foreigners.
Pakistan has for decades provided safe haven for millions of Afghans who fled their country after the Soviet invasion of 1979.
But since July hundreds of thousands have returned to Afghanistan in a desperate exodus amid fears of a crackdown, as Pakistan’s famed hospitality ran out.
Last month UNHCR said more than 350,000 Afghan refugees—documented and undocumented—had returned from Pakistan so far in 2016, adding it expects a further 450,000 to do so by the year’s end.
They face an uncertain future in an Afghanistan still at war and already overwhelmed by so many people fleeing fighting that officials warn of a humanitarian crisis. AFP