Woman From Iconic National Geographic Cover Arrested in Pakistan

Sharbat Gula, the woman whose face became a symbol for Middle Eastern and South Asian refugees when she was on the cover of National Geographic in 1985, was arrested on Wednesday for identification card fraud, according to The New York Times. Her arrest took place in Pakistan, the nation directly south of Afghanistan, where she was likely fleeing the rampant violence in her native nation.


It's common for Afghan citizens to obtain such identification in their efforts to leave the country because of war. Gula got her illegal Pakistani ID in 2014. However, she still held on to her Afghan passport, which she used for the hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca that is a religious requirement of Islam.

Gula had been under investigation by Pakistan’s National Database & Registration Authority since early last year.

Gula’s cover was unforgettable after its publishing, and renewed discussions about refugees and their rights, and was subject to the romanticization of the Western gaze. In a later profile on Gula, her eyes from the original cover are described as “haunted and haunting, and in them you can read the tragedy of a land drained by war.”


There has been much reporting (false and otherwise) on Gula since the appearance and popularization of her image in the media. Gula was originally photographed around the age of 13. Steve McCurry, the photographer who first took Gula’s picture said in a statement that her arrest is “an egregious violation of her human rights," according to the Times. “I am committed to doing anything and everything possible to provide legal and financial support for her and her family,” he said.