National Geographic’s ‘Afghan Girl’ Pleads Guilty to Staying in Pakistan Illegally

The Afghan woman known internationally as the “Afghan Girl,” thanks to her appearance on a famous National Geographic cover, has pleaded guilty to falsifying documents and illegally staying in Pakistan.

Afghan Consul General in Peshawar Abdul Waheed Poyan (R) talks with Afghan woman Sharbat Gula, known internationally as the 'Afghan Girl' who appeared on the cover of a 1985 edition of National Geographic magazine. (Credit: A MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images)

Afghan Consul General in Peshawar Abdul Waheed Poyan (R) talks with Afghan woman Sharbat Gula, known internationally as the ‘Afghan Girl’ who appeared on the cover of a 1985 edition of National Geographic magazine. (Credit: A MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images)

Sharbat Gula, now in her 40s, was sentenced to 15 days in jail and fined, her lawyer Mohsin Darwar, told CNN. She has already spent 11 days in jail and will be deported upon fulfilling the remainder of her sentence.

The sentence took into account her illness, her main lawyer Mubashir Nazar said. The fine of $1,100 has been paid, he added.

Gula — also known as Sharbat Bibi — was arrested in Peshawar last week. She was denied bail by the court Wednesday.

Naseem Kakad, the Afghan consul general in Peshawar, said in a statement Friday, “We respect the rule of law and we have paid the fine.

“We will take her with great respect to Afghanistan on Monday.”

Gula, whose striking green eyes in a National Geographic cover photo made her face known around the world, was 12 when photographer Steve McCurry captured his iconic image of her living in a refugee camp for Afghan nationals in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Last year, Gula was arrested on similar charges, but was later released.

Mounting pressure on refugees

Last week the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Afghanistan said it could not assist Gula as she was not a registered refugee.

“Sharbat Gula falls under the ‘undocumented migrants’ umbrella,” said Duniya Khan with the agency’s Pakistan office. “The UNHCR cannot intervene since she is not a registered refugee.”

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which assists undocumented migrants, says the arrest is symptomatic of mounting pressure on Afghan refugees in Pakistan to return home.

“It is a sign of the times in Pakistan, that it has now reached someone who was something of a celebrity in the ’80s, someone more high profile than the average,” said Nicholas Bishop, project development officer for the IOM in Afghanistan.

Human Rights Watch said since July 1, Pakistan has repatriated 370,000 Afghans, nearly 220,000 of them registered refugees.

“They are joining more than 1 million internally displaced Afghans who are struggling to survive in a country still wracked by conflict and crushing poverty,” the group said in a statement.

Millions of Afghans have sought shelter in Pakistan over the years as their country became ravaged by conflict, HRW added.