Asia

'Afghan Girl': National Geographic star 'should be bailed'

In this handout photograph released by Pakistan"s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on October 26, 2016, Afghan Sharbat Gula, the "Afghan Girl" who appeared on the cover of a 1985 edition of National Geographic magazine, waits ahead of a court hearing in Peshawar Image copyright AFP PHOTO / FIA
Image caption Sharbat Gula, the "Afghan Girl", pictured ahead of a court hearing in Peshawar

An Afghan woman immortalised on the cover of National Geographic magazine should be granted bail, Pakistan's interior minister says, after she was arrested on fraud charges.

Sharbat Gula, whose haunting green eyes made her famous as a child refugee, is accused of procuring fake ID papers.

"I think I will have to review this case because she is a woman and we should see it from a humanitarian angle," Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said.

She faces up to 14 years in jail.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali 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."

Mrs Gula's bail hearing is due to take place on Tuesday.

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Pakistan recently launched a crackdown against fake IDs, and Mrs Gula was arrested after a two-year probe in Peshawar, near the Afghan border.

Mrs Gula allegedly applied for an identity card in April 2014, using the name Sharbat Bibi. If the fraud claims are true, she is one of thousands of Afghan refugees deploying desperate measures to avoid returning to their war-torn homeland.

The celebrated "Afghan girl" picture was taken by photographer Steve McCurry in 1984 in a refugee camp in north-west Pakistan, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It led to one of the most recognisable magazine covers ever printed.

After hearing of Mrs Gula's arrest, Mr McCurry posted the iconic picture on Instagram and wrote: "Two hours ago, I got word from a friend in Peshawar, Pakistan, that Sharbat Gula has been arrested. 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."

Recent UN figures show that Pakistan hosts 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees. A further one million unregistered refugees are believed to be in the country.

An earlier headline on this story incorrectly stated that Sharbat Gula had already been bailed, but in fact her case has not yet been heard.

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