PESHAWAR: Thirty years after she gained recognition for her haunting eyes on the National Geographic cover, her face has again come to haunt the “Afghan Girl”, this time for dodging National Database & Registration Authority to claim Pakistani citizenship.
Steve McCurry’s the Afghan Girl, Sharbat Gula, with sea-green coloured eyes, shot to fame with her photo on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1984, when she was 12, living as a refugee at Nasirbagh refugee camp.
The photograph was likened to Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Mona Lisa. It was also called the First World’s Third World Mona Lisa. Seventeen years later, her “haunting eyes” would prompt Steve McCurry and his team to launch a search for her that ended in Afghanistan in 2002, when she had turned 30.
Nearly 30 years after the cover photograph, National Database & Registration Authority has caught up with her, but this time for falsely claiming to be a Pakistani citizen to get a Computerised National Identity Card.
In her CNIC form filed on April 17, 2014, the ‘Afghan Girl’ listed herself to have been born in Peshawar on Jan 1, 1969, residing at Talab Road, Nauthia Qadeem, Mohallah Mast Gul, Peshawar.
The CNIC number, shown in the form to have been issued to her husband Rahmat Gul, was also fake. Even the attestation signature and stamp of the senior school teacher, Younas Khan, has been found to be fake.
Jamilur Rehman, principal of the Government Higher Secondary School, No. 1, Peshawar City, said there was no Grade-16 SCT teacher by this name in the school.
Nadra issued her a CNIC and officials privy to the development say no one at the time bothered to look at the form to see that there was family tree, no names of the parents or their CNIC numbers. “It does not happen this way”, an official acknowledged, requesting he not be named because he was not authorised to speak to media.
“Every entry in that form was false and fake. It was so obvious,” another official said. “There was no cross-check and no verification,” the official admitted.
Months later, Nadra’s vigilance department woke up to discover the documents to be fake and ordered cancellation of Sharbat Bibi’s CNIC.
An investigation has been launched now and at least one lady officer, a deputy assistant director, accused of complicity in the case has been suspended. Another officer, with the same rank, is said to have resigned and joined civil service.
Faik Ali Chachar, spokesman for Nadra, said that Sharbat Bibi and two men — claiming to be her sons, Wali Khan and Rauf Khan, had tried to obtain CNICs on fake particulars and documents. The vigilance department blocked the cards in August last year.
“Former chairman of Nadra had ordered an inquiry and the Federal Investigation Agency is investigating the matter”, Mr Chachar said. The case of the lady officer has been referred to the FIA. The lady had been previously let off with a mere “censure” for issuing over two hundred CNICs to Afghans on forged documents, officials said.
Sharbat Bibi’s case highlights the vulnerability of what is being labelled as Nadra’s highly sophisticated integrated system. However, it is one of the thousands of cases, which Nadra says, its vigilance department has been able to detect and block.
The Nadra’s spokesman said it had blocked CNICs issued to 22,349 Afghans so far. Mr Chachar said that Nadra’s system and its Vigilance Department caught up with individuals sooner or later.
What, however, he did not say was how vulnerable and prone was its system to individual operators within the department, some of them holding senior positions, to manipulate and work through it to issue CNICs to aliens.
An official acknowledged how illegal immigrants, with connivance of officials in Nadra, had managed to enlist themselves into family trees of unsuspecting Pakistanis — a Bengali cook enlisting himself to be the son of a well-known Pakistani politician and another enlisting to be the son of an entrepreneur, much to the shock of his own family members. Their CNICs were blocked later.
Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2015