Nat Geo’s famed ‘Afghan Girl’ Sharbat Bibi was arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Wednesday in Peshawar, an official said.
Bibi was arrested from her home for alleged forgery of a Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC), the FIA sources said. Bibi had Pakistani and Afghan ID cards in her possession, and both ID cards have been recovered from her, the FIA sources said.
“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 AFP.
Ilyas said that FIA is also seeking three NADRA officials who were found responsible for issuing CNIC to Bibi, who have been at large since the fraud was detected.
He said Bibi faces seven to 14 years prison time and fine between $3,000 to $5,000 if convicted by court over fraud.
Bibi has been charged under Section 419, 420 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 5(2) of Prohibition of Corruption Act.
An FIA official said the officer who issued the ID cards to Sharbat Bibi is now working as a deputy commissioner in customs and got bail-before-arrest to avoid arrest in the case.
Last year, NADRA issued three CNICs to Sharbat Bibi and two men who claimed to be her sons. Issuance of CNICs were in violation of the rules and procedures of NADRA.
NADRA’s vigilance department and an FIA official rejected information provided on the NADRA form as fake, and the FIA official ordered cancellation of CNICs of Sharbat and her alleged sons.
Details of the form had claimed that Sharbat Bibi had two sons. The official maintained that Sharbat Bibi has two daughters and a two-year-old son.
The official added that relatives present at the given address have refused to recognise two persons listed as her sons in the form.
An inquiry had been launched with NADRA officials under fire for issuing CNICs to foreign nationals without legitimate documentation.
‘Mona Lisa of Afghan war’
Sharbat Bibi became famously known as the ‘Afghan Girl’ when National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry captured her photograph at the Nasir Bagh refugee camp situated on the edge of Peshawar in 1984 and identified her as Sharbat Gula.
She gained worldwide recognition when her image was featured on the cover of the June 1985 issue of National Geographic Magazine at a time when she was approximately 12 years old.
That photo has been likened with Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
National Geographic also made a short documentary about her life and dubbed her the ‘Mona Lisa of Afghan war’.
Take a look: Afghan Girl
She remained anonymous for years after her first photo made her an icon around the world and until she was discovered by National Geographic in 2002.
After Sharbat’s family granted her permission to meet with the man who photographed her 17 years ago, McCurry knew immediately, even after so many years, that he had found her again.
“Her eyes are as haunting now as they were then,” he had said.
Fate of Afghan refugees
Pakistan has been tackling the Afghan refugee crisis for over three decades; the UNHCR has acknowledged it as the “largest protracted refugee situation globally”.
It is estimated that some three million Afghan refugees are living in Pakistan, half of whom are unregistered.
Since 2009, Islamabad has repeatedly pushed back a deadline for them to return, but fears are growing that the latest cutoff date in March 2017 will be final.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has spoken against the forceful return of Afghanistan refugees from Pakistan, reminding the government of their obligation to protect all Afghans in the country, including those not registered as refugees.
Uncertainty about future, tightening of border controls, and security crackdown against foreigners living in Pakistan have already sped up the return process despite deteriorating security in Afghanistan due to increased attacks by Taliban and an aggravating economy.
The main factor driving the accelerated process is, however, said to be the documentation requirement for visits to Afghanistan. Doubling of cash grant by the UNHCR for voluntary returnees from $200 to $400 per individual and Pakistani incentive of free wheat for the relocated camps for three years are some of the other factors.
Besides harassment by law enforcement agencies, there are reports about increased negative attitudes of the community towards refugees due to involvement of some of them in the crime and terrorism.