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Pakistan deports National Geographic 'Afghan girl'

Sharbat Gula and her children have been deported back to war-torn Afghanistan, the Pakistani government has said. She had been arrested last month for possessing fake identity papers.

Pakistani Police said they escorted the infamous green-eyed woman, now 45, on Wednesday from a Peshawar hospital, where she had been staying since being arrested last month.

"We have deported Sharbat Gula to Afghanistan," an administration official in the border town of Torkham, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) northwest of Peshawar, said. "She crossed the border to Afghanistan at around 2:30am. She was also accompanied by her four children."

Another official also reported that, during her transfer back to Afghanistan, Gula was heard praying for Pakistan and everyone who had helped her and her family during their stay in the country.

Last week Gula told the news agency AFP that she was "heartbroken" at the prospect of returning. "Afghanistan is only my birthplace, but Pakistan was my homeland and I always considered it as my own country," she said. "I had decided to live and die in Pakistan but they did the worst thing with me. It's not my fault that I born there (in Afghanistan). I am dejected. I have no other option but to leave."

She said she had arrived in Pakistan as an orphan some four or five years after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan of 1979. She had been living for years in Peshawar with her children and husband, who died five years ago.

Crackdown on Afghan refugees

Gula's deportation comes amid  Pakistan's crackdown on Afghan refugees, many of whom use forged documents to obtain Pakistani nationality. The government plans to send back some 2.5 million refugees, despite Afghanistan facing a bloody Taliban insurgency. The UNHCR said that more than 250,000 Afghans had returned from Pakistan so far this year. It expects another 450,000 to return by this year's end, although doubts remain concerning how the country will look after so many refugees.

Afghanistan is nevertheless expected to welcome Gula with open arms. President Ashraf Ghani said he would host a function in her honor upon her arrival in Kabul. Public billboards have already welcomed her back home.

Gula gained international fame when, aged 12, she was featured on National Geographic magazine's cover in 1985. Her piercing green eyes resonated with a worldwide audience, and the image became a symbol for the plight of Afghans caught up in the 1980s Soviet occupation and the US-backed mujahedeen insurgency against it.

The iconic image, show by photographer Steve Curry, earned her title of the "Mona Lisa of the Afghan War." For years, however, hee identity remained unknown until Curry found her again in 2002.

dm/kms (AFP, AP)

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