PESHAWAR - Sharbat Gula, the Afghan woman whose teenage portrait became one of the most iconic photos of Afghanistan’s decades-long war has been arrested by Pakistani authorities, accusing her of living with fake documents.

Sharbat Gula, who has been called as ‘Mona Lisa of Afghan war’, was arrested from her home for alleged forgery of a Pakistani Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) here on Wednesday. When FIA arrested her, she had both Pakistani and Afghan ID cards in her possession. The FIA officials produced the Afghan woman before the court of Judicial Magistrate Asif Khan Jadoon and submitted an application for her physical custody for further investigation in the case.

The FIA officials told the court that they arrested the Afghan woman known as Sharbat Gula for possessing fake Pakistani CNIC.

Gula became famously known as the ‘Afghan Girl’ when National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry captured her picture at the Nasir Bagh refugee camp situated on the edge of Peshawar in 1984 and identified her as Sharbat Gula. He called her as the ‘Mona Lisa of the Afghan war’.

The FIA officials informed that Gula, who is now in her 40s, has been apprehended following a two-year investigation for illegally possessing a Pakistani ID card. They told the court that the first information report was lodged by FIA Inspector Imtiaz Ali against the Afghan woman under sections 409, 419, 420, 468, 471, 109 of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) read with sub-section 2 of section 5 of Prevention of Corruption Act and section 30 of NADRA Ordinance.

The local court sent her on two-day physical remand to the FIA. However, officials in the FIA said the Afghan woman was then shifted to central prison Peshawar as the FIA was shifting female suspects to the prisons for interrogation due to non-availability of female lock-up.

Gula, who has also been called as ‘Mona Lisa of Afghan war’ had been issued the ID card as violation to the rules and procedures of NADRA.

Sources in FIA said the officer who issued the ID card to Sharbat Gula is now working in another government department and got bail-before-arrest to avoid arrest in the case.

It merits mentioning here that NADRA had already launched a crackdown against its officials who had been involved in making fake Pakistani cards for foreigners, and a number of such officials and employees of the NADRA have also been terminated from service.

AFP adds: An Afghan woman immortalised on a celebrated National Geographic magazine cover as a green-eyed 12-year-old girl was arrested for living in Pakistan on fraudulent identity papers.

The haunting image of Sharbat Gula, taken in a Pakistan refugee camp by photographer Steve McCurry in the 1980s, became the most famous cover image in the magazine’s history.

FIA arrested Gul for fraud following a two-year investigation on her and her husband, who has absconded. Investigators, who have uncovered thousands of fraud cases over the last decade, launched a probe into her application shortly after she procured the card.

“FIA arrested Sharbat Gula, an Afghan woman, for obtaining a fake ID card,” Shahid Ilyas, an FIA official, told AFP.

Ilyas said the authorities were also seeking three NADRA officials found responsible for issuing Pakistan’s ID card to Gula, who have been at large since the fraud was uncovered. He said that Gula faces seven to 14 years in prison and a fine of $3,000-$5,000 if convicted.

In reality she is unlikely to serve such a harsh sentence - many Afghans who have been convicted in similar cases have been deported before they could be sent to prison.

Officials say Gula applied for a Pakistani identity card in Peshawar in April 2014, using the name Sharbat Bibi.

Thousands of Afghan refugees have managed to dodge Pakistan’s computerised system to get an identity card. The photo attached to her application featured the same piercing green eyes seen in McCurry’s famous image, only older.

The original photograph was taken in 1984 in a refugee camp in northwest Pakistan during 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.

Officials say NADRA has so far reverified 91 million ID cards and detected 60,675 fraudulent cards. A NADRA official told AFP that 2,473 foreigners, mostly Afghans, had voluntarily surrendered their ID cards which were obtained fraudulently.

Some 18 NADRA officials were under investigation for issuing ID cards to foreigners and eight were arrested, the official said.

PHOTOGRAPHER VOWS TO HELP

The National Geographic photographer has vowed to do “anything possible” to help Gula after reports she has been arrested. Photographer Steve McCurry posted to Instagram that this was “an egregious violation of her human rights”. He wrote: “We are doing everything we can to get the facts by contacting our colleagues and friends in the area. “I am committed to doing anything and everything possible to provide legal and financial support for her and her family. I object to this action by the authorities in the strongest possible terms. She has suffered throughout her entire life.”