by Kamran Iftikhar
Sharbat Gula is the name of a, then 12 year old, girl with piercing green eyes. One day she wakes up and comes to know that her homeland has been invaded by Soviets.
She, along with other family members and various other people, flees Afghanistan and takes refuge in neighboring Pakistan. During her stay in Nasir Bagh refugee camp near Peshawar, Steve McCurry a National Geographic Society photographer takes a photograph of her. That picture then becomes the cover story of National Geographic’s July 1985 edition.
The magazine gives her picture a title as “Afghan Girl” because photojournalist could not record her name. Sharbat Gula resides in Nasir Bagh refugee camp under the umbrella of UNHCR till 1990 when she gets married to a man named as Rehmat Gul. She returns to her home village in Afghanistan in the mid of 1990s.
The National Geographic team and McCurry aim at to meet “Afghan Girl” again and come back to Pakistan. They come to know that Nasir Bagh camp is going to be closed as Pakistan hosts around three million Afghan refugees purely on humanitarian grounds for several years and now they should go back to their homeland as the war is over.
Pakistan also registers Afghans by issuing PoR (Proof of Registration) cards. Out of that three million, 1.6 million got themselves registered while 1 million are still unregistered though documented as per UNHCR’s statement issued on 29th June 2016.
The government of Pakistan has extended the date of PoR cards twice. First being December 31, 2015 which was extended till June 31, 2016 and now it is again extended till December 31, 2016. It is said that its further extension till 31st March, 2017 is also expected. PoR cards allow Afghan refugees to legally reside in Pakistan.
Coming Back To Sharbat Gula
McCurry and his team find their “Afghan Girl” in 2002 after several unsuccessful attempts. Gula is now a grown up woman in her 30s with two daughters living in a remote region of Afghanistan. She has returned to her native country from Nasir Bagh Refugee Camp in 1992 and living with her husband and children. John Daugman using IRIS recognition confirms her identity.
Gula also recalls the moment when she was photographed by NatGeo’s Steve McCurry. Gula is not aware of her image on the title of The National Geographic Society Magazine. She also does not know anything about her “Afghan Girl” persona, which was shown to her in January 2002.
The Real Plight
Sharbat Gula was arrested on 26th of October, 2016 in Pakistan by Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) as she is living in the country with counterfeited documents. UNHCR distance itself from Sharbat Bibi and stated that she does not have the status of a refugee. She also has missed the deadline to get herself registered and obtain PoR card.
She was shot to fame in 1985. She was again photographed to fame in 2016, but this time has some different rather distinct recognition.
The“Afghan Girl” who’s beautiful green eyes captivated the world is now facing 7 to 14-year in prison and $3000 to $5000 fine if convicted by a court of law, which is very likely due her forged documents.