An Afghan woman immortalised on the cover of National Geographic magazine in the 1980s and arrested last week in Peshawar on fraud charges may soon be freed on humanitarian grounds, Pakistan’s Interior Minister has indicated. The haunting photo of a green-eyed, Afghan girl named Sharbat Gula, taken in a refugee camp in Pakistan in 1984, was one of National Geographic magazine’s most famous covers. And last week, she was arrested in Peshawar for having obtained fake identity papers.
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But Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Sunday indicated that she may be granted bail. “I think I will have to review this case because she is a woman and we should see it from a humanitarian angle,” Khan said. She faces up to 14 years in jail. Khan said Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) should arrange bail as soon as possible.
However, he added, “If we withdraw charges against her, deport her, or give her a temporary visa to leave Pakistan, then we will have to take back cases against the officials who issued her fake ID card. They are the real culprits, and I do not want to let them off the hook in any manner.” Gula’s bail hearing is due to take place on Sunday.
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Gula’s arrest not only highlighted the plight of millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. As the media splashed the news, Afghan Ambassador Zakhilwal, issued a statement to announce that he is trying to fight a legal battle for the girl and also requested Pakistan to release her.
The Afghan ambassador earlier maintained that a legal team had been formed to pursue Gula’s case, adding that diplomatic efforts had also been mounted to secure her release. The envoy maintained that Gula was now a widow and her eldest daughter had also recently passed away. “She is a poor woman heading her family now,” the ambassador said in a statement after he raised the issue with Pakistan Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz.