Pakistan has deported National Geographic’s famed green-eyed “Afghan Girl” to her native Afghanistan after a regional court convicted her of carrying a forged Pakistani ID and staying in the country illegally.
The case of Sharbat Gulla has drawn international attention and criticism of Pakistani authorities over their perceived harsh treatment of the famous refugee.
Ms Gulla and her four children were handed over to Afghan authorities at the Torkham border crossing, about 35 miles north west of the Pakistani city of Peshawar.
A visibly unhappy Ms Gulla, clad in a blue burka, and her children had been taken from Peshawar to the border in a convoy, which included several Afghan officials, said local government administrator Fayaz Khan.
At the crossing, Ms Gulla turned once to look back at Pakistani territory and softly murmured good wishes for the people of Pakistan - her home of many years, according to two customs officials at the scene.
She was arrested in late October on charges of carrying fake Pakistani ID papers and staying in Pakistan illegally. A Peshawar court later ordered her deported.
She gained international fame in 1984 as an Afghan refugee girl, after war photographer Steve McCurry’s photograph of her, with piercing green eyes, was published on National Geographic’s cover.
Mr McCurry found her again in 2002, then in 2014, she went into hiding after authorities accused her of buying fake Pakistani documents.
Mr Khan said she was being flown to the Afghan capital Kabul to attend a function in her honour hosted by Afghan president Ashraf Ghani.
Peshawar provincial authorities had reportedly tried to find a legal way for Ms Gulla to stay in the country on humanitarian grounds, but she declined the offer, according to Mr Khan.
After the Peshawar court sentenced her to 15 days in jail and a fine of 1,000 US dollars, she fell ill and was admitted to Peshawar’s Lady Reading hospital.
On Wednesday, the hospital staff presented Ms Gulla a bouquet of red roses before bidding her farewell, said Dr Mukhtiar Zaman, adding that she was still weak from her illness.
A close relative told CBS News in the US: “Sharbat Gulla was ready to repatriate to her father’s village in Kot district (Afghanistan) in early summer this year.
“But the residents of her native village left … due to Daesh,” the relative continued. Her Pakistan ID was already blocked one year back … She thought the case had been closed. She is a simple, illiterate lady,” he said.