‘Free Sharbat Gula on humanitarian grounds’

* Afghan envoy says 46-year-old ailing mother of four has faced enough hardships

‘Free Sharbat Gula on humanitarian grounds’

PESHAWAR: Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Dr Omar Zakhilwal on Wednesday requested Pakistan to release Afghan refugee Sharbat Gula on humanitarian grounds.

He was speaking at a press conference at the Afghanistan Consulate in Peshawar after visiting the green-eyed Afghan lady who has been behind the bars since October 25.

The envoy said the 46-year-old ailing mother of four children has faced enough hardships.

"Her bail request was rejected by the court but thankfully she is not in the prison as the authorities have provided her with a hospital room, where she is free to meet her children besides getting treatment for hepatitis C, the disease that had snatched her husband and her young daughter a few years back," Dr Zakhilwal informed the media.

The ambassador added that the overwhelming support from all walks of life, including the media and human rights activists in the Sharbat Gula case was helping in improving the relations between the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"She might not have seen Afghanistan after becoming refugee and especially after she was immortalized by the National Geographic Channel's documentary. The lady chose to live in Pakistan despite the US and many European countries offering her asylum. Instead of becoming celebrity, she chose to live a simple life with her family," Zakhilwal added.

He added Sharbat Gula did not do any fraud while obtaining a Pakistani identity card. In fact someone else had gone to the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) office to get her an identity card.

"Even if she was guilty of a crime that was committed some years ago, the Pakistani authorities should have accepted her as their own national as she is a symbol of the sufferings of the Afghan refugees," the envoy said.

"She has spent more than a week in the prison and she can spend a few more days. Bailing her out would have sent a positive message to the world about Pakistan. That chance has gone begging and now we wait for another day to hear that Sharbat Gula has been given relief," he added.

Mubashir Nazar, Sharbat Gul's lawyer, said they are waiting for the copy of the detailed decision before filing an appeal in the next hearing due on Friday.

"Some of the sections of the law under which Sharbat Gula is being tried, for example Section 420 and 471 are bail-able, however other sections are not bail-able and we will have to wait for the outcome of the court proceedings," Nazar said.

Talking about the repatriation of Afghan refugees, Zalkhiwal hoped to resolve issues related to the properties owned by the Afghan in Pakistan.

"More than 600,000 Afghans have repatriated back to Afghanistan in the past four months. Eight to ten thousand persons are returning daily. However, we are still trying hard to come to a conclusion about the properties worth millions of dollars owned by the Afghans in Pakistan," he added.

To a question, Dr Zakhilwal said the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad had helped at least 120 refugees detained under the 14 Foreign Act.