ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani authorities on Wednesday arrested the green-eyed Afghan woman who became a symbol of her country’s wars 30 years ago when her photo as a girl appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine, her family said.
Sharbat Gula, who grew up in a refugee camp and is now in her 40s, is accused of having a forged Pakistani identity card.
Gula is being held in jail in the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar, said her brother-in-law Shahshad Khan, who added that Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) raided her home early on Wednesday morning.
“FIA along with security forces came, entered her house, searched all belongings and took important papers including $2,800,” Khan said.
Officials with the FIA and Pakistan’s national identity authority were not available for comment.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported on its website that Gula was arrested over alleged forgery of a Pakistani national identity card that allowed her to remain in the country.
She faces up to 14 years in prison if convicted of fraud.
Gula was for years an unnamed celebrity after an image of her a teenage Afghan refugee was featured on National Geographic magazine’s cover in 1985, her striking green eyes peering out from a headscarf with a mixture of ferocity and pain.
The image became a symbol of Afghanistan’s suffering during the 1980s Soviet occupation and U.S.-backed Mujahadeen insurgency against it.
The Soviet withdrawal in 1989 led to the collapse of the Kabul government and years of civil war until the Islamist Taliban movement seized power in the mid-1990s.
After the Taliban regime fell to the U.S.-backed military action in 2001, National Geographic sent photographer Steve McCurry to find the girl in the photo, eventually identified as Gula.
At the time, she was living in Afghanistan but she later moved to Peshawar to be with her husband, her brother-in-law said.
Gula’s arrest comes amid new Pakistani pressure to send 2.5 million Afghan refugees back to their home country, despite offensives by Taliban insurgents that kill and maim thousands each year.
Khan argued that Gula is not a refugee but a legal Pakistan resident because she was married to his brother, Rahmat Khan, who was born in Pakistan and died five years ago, leaving her with four children.
“Her children are not sleeping since last night. She is a poor widow. Her children need her and she needs justice,” he said.
Writing by Kay Johnson; editing by Andrew Roche