Iconic Afghan Girl From 1985 ‘National Geographic’ Cover Arrested On Fraud Charges, Faces Up To 14 Years Prison Time

She has been immortalized and celebrated for decades due to appearing on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985, a cover now considered to be the most famous in the magazine’s history. The green-eyed 12-year-old girl within the haunting image, taken in a Pakistan refugee camp by Steve McCurry, is recognizable to the masses even 30 years after the fact. However, Sharbat Gula, the subject of the image, now faces up to 14 years in prison, a Pakistani official warned.

Gula was arrested by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on fraud charges after a two-year investigation within Peshawar, a city in northwestern Pakistan. It is the capital city of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and borders Afghanistan.

An FIA official, Shahid Ilyas, spoke with the Agence France-Presse in regards to the arrest.

“FIA arrested Sharbat Gula, an Afghan woman, today for obtaining a fake ID card.”

According to Ilyas, three NADRA officials are also being sought by the FIA for issuing the national identity card to Gula, who has been on the run since the investigation of the identity fraud began. He went on to explain that Gula faces a prison sentence between seven and 14 years time and a fine between $3,000 and $5,000 if she is convicted of the fraudulent activity.

Officials say that Gula applied for a Pakistani identity card in Peshawar in April of 2014 when she used the name Sharbat Bibi. She was one of the thousands of refugees from Afghanistan who was able to dodge Pakistan’s computerized system and manage to receive an identity card.

The spectacular image of Gula was taken in 1984 in a refugee camp in the northwest of Pakistan during the time that the Soviets occupied Afghanistan. McCurry, the photographer who snapped the famed photo, later tracked her down after searching for Gula for 17 years. He found her living in a remote Afghan village in 2012. She was married to a baker and the mother to three daughters.

The investigation of identity fraud cases within Pakistan is part of a nationwide crackdown by officials against those who have obtained fake ID cards fraudulently. A re-verification campaign has been launched across the country of Pakistan.

The AFP shares what has been uncovered thus far during the re-verification process.

“Officials say NADRA has so far reverified 91 million ID cards and detected 60,675 cards by non nationals fraudulently. A NADRA official told AFP that 2,473 foreigners, mostly Afghans, had voluntarily surrendered their ID cards which they obtained fraudulently. Some 18 officials of the authority were under investigation for issuing ID cards to foreigners and eight were arrested, the official said.”

Over 350,000 Afghan refugees have returned to the nation this year, which has been war-torn for decades. United Nations data reveals that there has been an influx in the number of people crossing the border, which is expected to continue. Pakistan has been a safe haven that has provided millions of Afghans with refuge after fleeing their homeland following the Soviet invasion of 1979.

The nation of Pakistan continues to host 1.4 million Afghan refugees who are registered legally, according to UNHCR figures from earlier in the year. This makes Pakistan the third-largest refugee hosting nation in the world. In addition to those who are registered, there is believed to be an additional one million unregistered refugees residing in Pakistan.

Islamabad has repeatedly delayed and pushed back the deadline since 2009 for unregistered Afghans to return, but there are fears rising that the newly-set cutoff date, March of 2017, will be the final one.

The choice by many like Gula to live in the nation illegally by way of identity fraud will result in more suffering for many people.

[Featured Image by John Moore/Getty Images]