The “Mona Lisa of Afghanistan” arrested as undocumented immigrant

Mona Lisa of Afghanistan  Feb 26 2015

The renowned image of the “Mona Lisa of Afghanistan” from the cover of National Geographic in 1985 has been replaced with a copy of her mug shot from Pakistani immigration authorities. In 1984 when the iconic photo was taken, Sharbat Gula lived in a refugee camp in Pakistan, a refugee from the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Her parents had both been killed in Soviet bombing when she was 6-years-old & her grandmother & siblings walked across the mountains to get to the refugee camp in Pakistan.

Steve McCurry, the photographer, made quite a mythological travelogue out of his 17-year search to identify & locate her after she left the refugee camp & returned to Afghanistan–where she married & had kids. When McCurry located her, he asked if she had ever felt safe & she answered, “No. But life under the Taliban was better. At least there was peace & order.”

Now Pakistani authorities in Peshawar, Pakistan have detained Gula for questioning for obtaining immigration papers using a false identity. She’s one of an estimated 23,000 undocumented Afghan immigrants in Pakistan nailed for false papers. Of the 2.5 million Afghan refugees, only 1.5 million are registered; the rest are undocumented & these are being especially targeted for deportation. This is all part of Pakistan’s several-year campaign to drive refugees back to Afghanistan since US & Pakistani bombing have created millions of Pakistani refugees & there is no place to house more.

Human Rights Watch still cannot bring itself to condemn the US-NATO war in Afghanistan or drone bombing in Pakistan, but this week it issued a report criticizing Pakistan for forcibly expelling an estimated 33,000 Afghan refugees & for the crackdown & scapegoating of Afghans after the December 2014 massacre of schoolchildren by the Pakistani Taliban. The crackdown includes harassment, intimidation, beatings, & evictions from their homes by police in an acceleration of the campaign to deport Afghans back to likely homelessness, starvation, unemployment, war, & occupation.

This has gone on long enough! There are spring antiwar protests against the US-NATO wars. Grab a placard demanding “US out of Afghanistan!” “US out of Iraq!” & hit the streets.

(Photos by Steve McCurry)

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