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Sharbat Gula, green-eyed ‘Afghan Girl’ on National Geographic cover, gets safe haven in Italy

Sharbat Gula, the green-eyed “Afghan Girl” whose 1985 photo in National Geographic became a symbol of Afghanistan’s wars, has been given safe haven by Italy after fleeing the Taliban, Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s office has said.

According to the statement, the government intervened after Sharbat Gula asked for help to leave Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of the country in August, adding that her arrival was part of a broader programme to evacuate and integrate Afghan citizens.

The Italian government will now help to get her integrated into life in Italy, the statement also said. According to the Daily Mail, Gula is suffering from hepatitis C and told the media her husband died several years ago. 

US photographer Steve McCurry took the picture of Gula, now a widowed mother-of-four, when she was 12-years-old and living in a refugee camp on the Pakistan-Afghan border.

Sharbat Gula became the face of the Afghan war after her piercing green eyes were captured in the iconic photograph but her identity was only discovered in 2002 when McCurry returned to the region and tracked her down.

National Geographic said at the time that an FBI analyst, forensic sculptor and the inventor of iris recognition verified her identity.

Also read | Didn’t expect Pakistan to behave so harshly: NatGeo’s ‘Afghan Girl’

She was arrested in 2016 for forging a national identity card in an effort to live in the country and a Pakistani court in Peshawar ordered her to be deported back to Afghanistan. Gula, now in her 40s, was also sentenced to 15 days in jail and a 110,000 Pakistani rupee fine. 

Ashraf Ghani, the then Afghan president, welcomed her back and promised to give her an apartment to ensure she “lives with dignity and security in her homeland”.

“As a child, she captured the hearts of millions because she was the symbol of displacement,” Ghani said of Gula at the time. 

Also read | Deported from Pakistan, Nat Geo’s ‘Afghan girl’ to visit India for treatment

“The enormous beauty, the enormous energy that she projected from her face captured hearts and became one of the most famous photographs of the 1980s and up until the 1990s,” Ghani added. 

Since seizing power, Taliban leaders have said they would respect women’s rights in accordance with Sharia, or Islamic law. But under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, women could not work and girls were banned from school. Women had to cover their faces and be accompanied by a male relative when they left home.

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