Provincial authorities in Pakistan have decided “on humanitarian grounds” not to deport the green-eyed Afghan woman globally known as the “Afghan Girl” for her appearance on a 1985 National Geographic cover.
The announcement Saturday came a day after a court in Peshawar, capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, found 46-year-old Shartbat Gula guilty of fraudulently obtaining Pakistani citizenship identity and ordered authorities to deport her on Monday.
The Afghan woman was taken into custody about two weeks ago and was later hospitalized because of suffering from Hepatitis C.
On Friday, Gula appeared in the court and pleaded guilty to charges of falsifying documents and staying illegally in Pakistan.
The judge sentenced her to 15 days in prison coupled with a financial penalty of around $1,100. He took into account her 11 days in detention, meaning she would be freed and deported on Monday.
“Keeping in view her medical situation that she is suffering with Hepatitis C and she has minor siblings, three daughters and one son, the court took a very lenient view,” defense counsel, Mubashar Nazar told VOA after Friday’s court proceedings.
Provincial minister Shaukat Yousafazai said Saturday the government decided to seek a review of the deportation orders “purely on humanitarian grounds” to enable Gula to receive further medical treatment in the country.
Gula’s striking green eyes in her famous 1985 National Geographic cover photo, published when she was 12, became a symbol of the turmoil facing Afghanistan at a time when millions of Afghans were forced to take refuge in neighboring Pakistan and Iran. Photographer Steve McCurry, who took the original photo of Gula, found her again in 2002 in a remote Afghan village, and took her portrait again for another magazine cover.
Speaking to reporters on her hospital bed, the Afghan woman told reporters she has not been back to Afghanistan for 13 years.