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An Afghan refugee made famous by a 1984 National Geographic cover is once more at the center of a political firestorm

The photo was released by Pakistani media.
  • Hanna Kozlowska
By Hanna Kozlowska

Investigative reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Her piercing green eyes are instantly recognizable, even three decades later. Sharbat Gula was the subject of arguably the most famous cover of National Geographic magazine, and today her photo makes headlines again.

Reuters/Tim Wimborne
30 years have passed since this iconic photo was first published.

In 1984 Steve McCurry took a photo of a 12-year-old Afghan refugee to Pakistan, turning her into a powerful symbol of the war that was ravaging her country at the time. On Tuesday, more than thirty years later, Pakistani media published a mugshot-style image of Gula found on an ID card that, as a foreigner, she is not legally entitled to. Officials say it shows she has been living in the country on fake papers and are investigating the case. They say it is among thousands of similar cases.

Pakistani authorities have been cracking down on fake documentation for years, detecting 23,000 instances over the past 12.  There are 3 million Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan. Possessing an official ID is the only way to buy property or open a bank account, leading to rampant fraud and bribery.

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