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Nat Geo's 'Afghan girl' Sharbat Gula will not be deported, says KP's provincial minister

Nat Geo’s famed ‘Afghan Girl’ Sharbat Gula will not be deported from Pakistan, said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s provincial minister Shaukat Yousafzai on Saturday.

Sharbat Gula was arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Oct 26 from her house in the Nauthia area for alleged forgery of a Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC). A day after her arrest, the United Nations High Commissioner distanced itself from Sharbat Gula, claiming that she was not a registered refugee.

Sharbat Gula will complete her 15-day sentence on Wednesday.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan also requested KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattakto not deport Sharbat Gula.

KP’s home department, following the decision, has also stopped implementation of the decision to deport her.

The decision was taken on humanitarian grounds and as a goodwill gesture towards Afghanistan.

During a bail hearing before a special court earlier this week, Sharbat Gula’s lawyer said she is the sole bread winner of her family and is currently suffering from Hepatitis C.

Earlier in the week, a special anti-corruption and immigration court in Peshawar ordered the deportation of Sharbat Gula after she serves a 15-day jail sentence and pays a fine of Rs110,000.

‘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.

Read more: Pakistan hosts third highest number of refugees: Amnesty

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.

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