National Geographic’s famous Afghan Girl arrested in Pakistan for alleged forged ID
If every picture tells a story, the fact that National Geographic’s famous Afghan girl was arrested in Pakistan is certainly a plot point. The iconic 1984 cover photo, taken by Stephen McCurry, depicts Sharbat Gula, who at the time was living as an Afghan refugee in Pakistan, staring at the camera with piercing green eyes. In 2002, McCurry and a team went into Afghanistan and discovered that she had returned to her home country in 1992 and had been living there, which is the only reason anyone knows her name now. This week, Gula was arrested in Pakistan for having a fake ID, and she faces up to 14 years in prison and fines from $3,000 to $5,000 if she’s convicted.
Gula had both an Afghan ID and a national Pakistani Computerized National Identity Cards (CNIC) card, which she’s not allowed to possess since she’s an Afghan refugee. According to The Guardian, two men who identified themselves as her sons were also able to get the fake documents. Her arrest comes after a two year investigation by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) that included Gula’s IDs and three National Database and Registration Authority (NARDA) officials who were identified as the ones who issued the card to Gula, but they’ve been at large since news of the fraud, according to the AFP. Gula was arrested under the name Sharbat Bibi.
Just as Gula represented a much larger crisis when she was just a girl and captivated readers of National Geographic, her arrest tells a larger story that she’s just a part of. Afghan refugees make up most of the refugees in the world. Right now, 1.5 million Afghan refugees are living in Pakistan, according to The Economist. Only Turkey houses more. But Pakistan’s government wants to get rid of the refugees, which is why it began launching investigations into fraudulent IDs. So far, they’ve found 60,675 of them.
The Pakistan government is giving refugees with“Proof of Registration” cards until Dec. 31 to get out of the country, when the cards will no longer be valid. Undocumented refugees have until Nov. 15 to get visas, which are basically impossible to get, according to The Economist. Pakistan is asking mobile providers to disable the refugees’ SIM cards and banks to close their accounts. Come 2017, more than one million refugees will have no legal residence anywhere.
So where will they go? Back to their war torn country, where the Taliban has killed about 8,400 civilians and forced 1.2 million from their homes? Try to make it to Europe, where governments are bickering about refugee placement, demolishing camps, and misplacing children? Pakistan kicking Afghan refugees out of its country is half the reason there is a “refugee crisis” in Europe in the first place. The United Nations only helps registered refugees, so many unregistered Afghans are just returning to Afghanistan, which is just not a safe place. Where these people and their families are supposed to go is a tremendous humanitarian crisis no one is really solving right now.
Gula has been a symbol of the Afghan struggle almost her entire life. She went from being “the Afghan girl” to an Afghan woman still struggling to stay far away from war. And there are millions more just like her.