She was just 12 when she was photographed by Steve McCurry in a camp for displaced people in Peshawar, the biggest city along Pakistan's frontier with Afghanistan. Now in her 40s, she is still in Peshawar.
Pakistani immigration officials detained her on charges that she possessed a fake Pakistani national identification card. They had been investigating her for years, and last year Pakistani media published the picture attached to her allegedly fake identification card. As an Afghan national, she should not have been able to obtain such a card.
Prosecutors on Friday ordered Gula to be deported after she completes her 15-day jail term, according to the AP. Gula has remained hospitalized while in police custody because of liver problems, and she denies all charges against her.
Gula's arduous life now has two famous photos as its bookends, the magazine cover and the mug shot. They tell a sad story of a woman at the mercy of war. When McCurry took her photo in 1984, Gula was not aware. She wouldn't know of her own international fame until 2002, when McCurry returned to Peshawar in search of her.
Now, Gula is one of at least 1.5 million Afghan refugees who live in Pakistan (some estimates are as high as 3 million), down from a onetime high of 5 million. The majority came during the country's civil war in the 1980s, which nearly left the entire country in ruins.
Afghanistan has not emerged from constant strife since and continues to be a major source of refugees, although many try to reach Europe instead of the overcrowded camps in Pakistan. Last year, 250,000 Afghan refugees in Pakistan actually returned home, according to the United Nations. Many were seeing their “home country” for the first time; as many as three-quarters were born in Pakistan.
Pakistan is trying to persuade Afghan refugees to return home, even as recent violence pushes more Afghans to flee. Pakistani authorities have struggled to register the refugees, and amid the confusion, many obtain fake documents like Gula's. Pakistan's National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) says it has detected 60,675 cards that may be illegal. Pakistan has tried to persuade refugees to leave since 2009, although it has consistently pushed back a supposedly hard deadline to do so each year. The United Nations recently doubled its cash incentive for refugees to move back to Afghanistan to $400.
A major source of worry for Pakistan is that a thriving fake document business allows militants from across the border to move freely within Pakistan. For instance, in May, when a U.S. drone strike killed Taliban leader Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, such fake documents were found on his person.
Shahid Ilyas, an official at NADRA, told reporters that Gula faces seven to 14 years in prison and a fine of $3,000 to $5,000 if convicted.
This post has been updated.