'Afghan girl' of National Geographic held for having fake ID card in Pakistan

"FIA arrested Sharbat Gula, an Afghan woman, today for obtaining a fake ID card," Shahid Ilyas, an official of the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA)

An Afghan woman, who was featured on a celebrated National Geographic magazine cover as a green-eyed 12-year-old girl over two decades ago, was arrested on Wednesday for fraud in Pakistan.

In a report of Dawn daily, it had been reported that Sharbat Gula was arrested by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for fraud following a two-year-long investigation in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, the capital of restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan. She now faces up to 14 years in jail, a Pakistani official warned in a report.

"FIA arrested Sharbat Gula, an Afghan woman, today for obtaining a fake ID card," Shahid Ilyas, an official of the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA), told a news agency.

He added that the FIA was also seeking three NADRA officials who were found responsible for issuing Pakistan's national identity card to Gula, and have been at large since the fraud was detected.

He said that Gula faces seven to 14 years prison time and fine of $3,000 - $5,000 if, convicted by court over fraud, the report added. Pakistani officials have informed that Gula applied for a Pakistani identity card in Peshawar in April 2014, with the name Sharbat Bibi.

This is the same Sharbat Gula, whose haunting eyes made it to the cover of National Geographic in 1984. The photographer Steve McCurry took her picture in a Nasir Bagh refugee camp in northwest Pakistan at the time of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

McCurry later tracked her down, after a 17-year search, to a remote Afghan village in 2002 where she was married to a baker and the mother of three daughters. When the family allowed him to meet her, he said he knew immediately that he had found her again."Her eyes are as haunting now as they were then," he had said, Dawn reported.

She was one of thousands of Afghan refugees who managed to dodge Pakistan's computerised system and to get an identity card. National Geographic also made a short documentary about her life and called her the 'Mona Lisa of Afghan war', Dawn said.

According to the reports, Pakistan has launched a crackdown against those who have obtained fake ID cards fraudulently and launched a reverification campaign across the country. Officials say NADRA has so far re-verified 91 million ID cards and detected 60,675 cards by non-nationals fraudulently.

United Nations data indicate that more than 350,000 Afghan refugees have returned to their war-torn homeland from Pakistan this year, while the torrent of people crossing the border expected to continue. According to UNHCR data, Pakistan has been safe haven for around 1.4millions of Afghans who fled their country after the Soviet invasion of 1979. A further one million unregistered refugees are estimated to be in the country.

Since 2009, Islamabad has reportedly been pushing back a deadline for them to return, but fears are growing that the latest cutoff date in March 2017 will be final.