After several weeks of legal wrangling and uncertainty, Sharbat Gula—who famously appeared on an iconic 1985 cover of National Geographic magazine as a symbol of refugees—is back in her country of birth, Afghanistan, where she received a warm greeting from the country's president at the Presidential Palace upon her return.
Sharbat Gula, 44, pleaded guilty last week to possession of a fraudulent Pakistani national ID card in a court in Peshawar, in the northwestern part of the country. She could have been sentenced to as much as 14 years, but as part of the terms of her plea, she was sentenced to 15 days in jail and ordered to pay a fine of 110,000 rupees (about $1,050 U.S.).
Afghanistan's government pressured Pakistan for leniency, arguing that Sharbat Gula has several children that she looks after and citing her illness, hepatitis C. In fact, Sharbat Gula spent most of her 15 days incarcerated in a local hospital in Peshawar, where she received treatment.
Sharbat Gula had fled to Pakistan from Afghanistan in the mid-1980s with her family when she was a girl as a result of war. In late 1984, photographer Steve McCurry photographed her as a young girl living in the largest refugee camp in Pakistan, where almost three million Afghans sought shelter in the wake of the 1979 invasion by the Soviet Union.
McCurry's stunning portrait made Sharbat Gula an international symbol of the refugee crisis. Her piercing, sea-green eyes graced the cover of National Geographic in 1985. In 2002, McCurry tracked Sharbat Gula down and photographed her again.
In recent years, Sharbat Gula had been living in Peshawar. Her husband, Rahmat Gul, a baker, died of hepatitis about four years ago.
Omar Zakhiwal, the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, previously told National Geographic that his country's government had been working to settle Sharbat Gula and her family in his country. Afghanistan has been encouraging other refugees to come back, although some have worried that security remains a concern.
When Sharbat Gula was greeted by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Wednesday, he reportedly presented her with keys to a government-provided apartment in Kabul.
Sharbat Gula is the most famous of hundreds of thousands of refugees who are being forcibly removed from Pakistan and Iran, after public opinion has soured on them in recent months. For years, sources say, many refugees in Pakistan used ID cards that technically can only be issued to citizens. The cards are needed to open bank accounts, buy property, and other tasks.
But the Pakistani government has cracked down on the process in recent months and is pursuing criminal investigations into officials that are accused of issuing them to noncitizens.