An Afghan woman made famous by a photograph taken of her when she was 12 has turned down a last-minute offer to suspend her deportation from Pakistan, a country she first moved to as a child refugee and will return to the home country today, The Guardian reports.
Gula, now 44, has become the unlikely focus of a tug of war between the Afghan and Pakistani governments following a backlash over her arrest in October and conviction for living illegally in Pakistan under a forged identity card.
A court ordered she be deported after serving a 15-day jail term and paying a fine of 110,000 rupees (£850).
Ijaz Khan, an academic at Peshawar University, said the arrest and trial had caused “deep embarrassment” for the government.
“A lot of people are connecting the way she has been treated with refugees in general, who have been treated in a very heavy-handed way,” he said.
Over the past year, Pakistan has dramatically stepped up its efforts to encourage the estimated 2 million Afghans living in the country to return home. Many refugees claim they have been harassed by police, who have used the crackdown as an opportunity to extort bribes. The campaign has undermined Pakistan’s now-threadbare boasts about its generous hosting of one of the world’s largest refugee populations.
Gula, who appeared as the wide-eyed “Afghan Girl” on the front cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985, has been raising her four children alone after the death of her husband. She is in poor health and is being treated in a Peshawar hospital.
On Saturday, the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), the province where Gula was living and was arrested, offered to cancel her deportation. But family members said she had rejected the offer after initial confusion over paperwork a KP government functionary had asked her to sign that she thought was a hospital discharge notice.
A grand welcome is planned for her return to Afghanistan, where billboards with her photograph have been erected.
After crossing into Afghanistan at the Torkham border post she is due to fly to Kabul for a meeting with Ghani. An Afghan government official said she will be given a house.