National Geographic's iconic, green-eyed Afghan Girl was arrested Wednesday at her home in Peshawar, Pakistan, on charges she possessed a forged national identification card, authorities said.
Shahid Ilyas, an official of the Federal Investigation Agency's National Database Registration Authority, told AFP that Sharbat Gula was arrested following a two-year investigation and could face up to 14 years in prison.
Pakistan, and particularly the Peshawar area along the Afghan border, has been home to more than a million Afghans fleeing decades of war. Pakistan has been cracking down on fake national identification cards and has launched a verification program across the nation.
Gula was about 12 years old in 1984 when war photographer Steve McCurry shot her haunting portrait Afghan Girl, which appeared on the cover of the internationally renowned magazine's June 1985 edition. Gula's parents were killed in Russia's war with Afghanistan, and the young Gula walked with her grandmother and four siblings across the mountains to Pakistan's Nasir Bagh refugee camp.
The photo became a symbol of the plight of refugees. After the 9/11 terror attacks it resurfaced as a promotional tool in the Bush administration's effort to draw support for a war against the Taliban.
In 2002, McCurry tracked Gula down to a remote Afghan village, where she was married to a baker and had three daughters. A traditional Muslim, she was not allowed to meet men outside her family. The magazine said it was given permission to send a female associate producer to meet Gula and take another photo.
The magazine used iris-scanning technology and face-recognition techniques to verify it was the same person in the 1984 photo. Her family finally granted permission for her to meet with McCurry, who said he recognized her immediately by her eyes.
"I don't think she was particularly interested in her personal fame," McCurry said after the 2002 meeting. "But she was pleased when we said she had come to be a symbol of the dignity and resilience of her people."
When Gula was arrested Wednesday, she had Pakistani and Afghan ID cards in her possession, and both ID cards have been seized, Ilyas told AFP. He said more than 60,000 fraudulent cards have been uncovered across Pakistan, and that eight officials so far have been charged with issuing ID cards to foreigners.
Pakistan has been pressuring refugees to leave, and has set a deadline for March. But Afghanistan remains a dangerous place — Taliban insurgents on Wednesday killed 26 Afghans abducted from the central province of Ghor.