Sharbat Gula’s plight cannot be ignored.
The little Afghan girl made famous by a cover of the National Geographic in 1984 is today under arrest in Pakistan because she acquired an illegal Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC). Sharbat Gula fled from Afghanistan’s murderous region of Tora Bora after Soviet bombing killed her parents. She was famously photographed at the Nasir Bagh refugee camp girls’ school in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa at the age of 12, portraying a child’s fear and uncertainty that went viral globally—before social media. She was married to an Afghan at 15 and returned to Afghanistan, only to be driven out again in 2001 when the U.S. invaded the country after the events of September 11, 2001.
No one can deny that living in refugee camps is tough. Sharbat Gula acquired a Pakistani CNIC to get out of the camp for which NADRA employees accepted graft. After rejection of her bail she is now being kept at Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital where mercifully she has been visited by a civil society delegation of women who think she should be treated with humanity at the age of 44. She is definitely different from an Afghan Taliban terrorist roaming freely with a fake Pakistani ID card.
The refugee phenomenon is worldwide today. What transpired in our region in 1979 spread to the Middle East in 2014, triggering a stream of suffering humanity into Europe. As the Western world copes with this large injection of population on an emergency basis, the world appeals for mercy for those whose identity may not be backed with proper documents. Today, Pakistan, under pressure from cross-border terrorism, wants to repatriate nearly three million Afghan refugees from its soil. The reports from Afghanistan however are not good. As we press for the refugees’ repatriation we should not overlook the suffering of people like Sharbat Gula who had to cope with a situation of untold hardship just to survive. Gula is privileged to have the eyes of the world on her thanks to Steve McCurry’s iconic photograph—there are thousands more who aren’t so lucky.