PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Pakistan on Wednesday deported National Geographic’s famed green-eyed “Afghan Girl” to her native Afghanistan after a regional court had convicted her on charges of carrying a forged Pakistani ID card and staying in the country illegally.
The case of Sharbat Gulla has drawn international attention and criticism of Pakistani authorities over their perceived harsh treatment of the iconic refugee.
Gulla and her four children were handed over to Afghan authorities at the Torkham border crossing, about 60 kilometres (37 miles) northwest of the Pakistani city of Peshawar, before dawn Wednesday.
Earlier, a visibly unhappy Gulla, clad in a blue, all-encompassing traditional women’s burqa, and her children were taken from Peshawar to the border in a convoy, which included several Afghan officials, said a local government administrator Fayaz Khan.
At the crossing, Gulla turned once to look back at Pakistani territory and softly murmured good wishes for the people of Pakistan — her home of many years, according to two customs officials at the scene. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Gulla was arrested in late October on charges of carrying fake Pakistani ID papers and staying in Pakistan illegally. A Peshawar court later ordered her deported.
She gained international fame in 1984 as an Afghan refugee girl, after war photographer Steve McCurry’s photograph of her, with piercing green eyes, was published on National Geographic’s cover.
McCurry found her again in 2002. In 2014, she went into hiding after authorities accused her of buying fake Pakistani documents.
Khan, the local official, said Gulla was to be flown to the Afghan capital of Kabul later in the day, where she was to attend a function in her honour hosted by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Ghani’s office did not immediately confirm that event was planned.
Peshawar provincial authorities had reportedly tried to find a legal way for Gulla to stay in the country on humanitarian grounds, but she declined the offer, according to Khan.
After the Peshawar court sentenced her to 15 days in jail and a fine of $1,000, she fell ill and was admitted to at Peshawar’s Lady Reading hospital.
On Wednesday, the hospital staff presented Gulla a bouquet of red roses before bidding her farewell, said Dr Mukhtiar Zaman. He described Gulla as still being weak from her illness.
Associated Press Writer Asif Shahzad in Islamabad contributed to this report.