Afghan’s President Ashraf Ghani held Wednesday a small ceremony at the presidential palace in Kabul to welcome back Sharbat Gula, the “Afghan Girl” with the striking green eyes. She became an international symbol of her country’s conflicts after American photojournalist Steve McCurry photographed her in 1984 as she was living in Pakistan’s largest refugee camp. The image was the cover of the National Geographic magazine in 1985. Gula was deported to her hometown by Pakistan authorities after living illegally in that country.
The government provided the “Afghan Girl,” who is now 44 years old, a furnished apartment where the president vowed to keep her safe and protected along with her three children, as reported by Reuters. Gula was escorted overnight by Pakistan security officials from a Peshawar hospital where she had been receiving treatment after her arrest last month, and Afghan authorities received her at the Torkham border.
Pakistan wants to deport 2.5 million Afghan refugees back home regardless of Afghanistan’s crisis amid the bloody Taliban insurgency. It will be difficult for the nation to look after that number of returnees, but Ghani said the country would not be complete until all refugees were welcomed back, Reuters reported.
Gula had been living in Peshawar for years with her children and husband, Rahmat Gul, who passed away five years ago as a result of deadly hepatitis. She pleaded guilty last week to having a fake Pakistani national ID card and a court in Peshawar could have sentenced her to 14 years in prison, but her plea helped her reduce that period to 15 days in jail and a fine of about $1,050.
Afghanistan’s government pressed Pakistan for leniency arguing that Gula’s health was affected and that she was the only person responsible for her children. During the welcome-back ceremony held Wednesday, Gula was wearing a blue burqa she pulled back to show her face.
The woman attended with her children and did not offer any comments. She showed no expression while standing beside President Ghani, who said she was an “iconic figure” who clearly represented the nation’s deprivation, hope, and aspirations. He added that her courage and determination inspired everyone.
Earlier this month, Gula expressed her desire to go back to her hometown, according to CNN.
The girl and her family had fled from the pain and suffering
The image of the Afghan Girl was widely known during the 1980s Soviet occupation and the mujahedeen insurgency that fought it with the support the United States. The photograph transmitted suffering and ferocity through the green eyes of that girl. The Kabul government collapsed and years of civil war were a consequence of the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. In the following decade, the Islamist Taliban movement seized power.
In 2001, the U.S.-backed military action had a victory over the Taliban regime and National Geographic sent McCurry to find the girl in the photo, who was later identified as Sharbat Gula. The photojournalist found her in 2002 and took a second photo.
“We left Afghanistan because of the fighting,” Gula’s brother, Kashar Khan, told National Geographicin at the time. “The Russians were everywhere. They were killing people. We had no choice.”