National Geographic’s green-eyed ‘Afghan Girl’ finds safe haven in Italy

Italy intervenes after Sharbat Gula asks for help to leave Afghanistan following Taliban takeover in August

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ROME – Italy has provided a refuge for Sharbat Gula, the green-eyed “Afghan girl” whose 1985 photo in National Geographic became a symbol of her country’s wars, Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s office said on Thursday.

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

American photographer Steve McCurry took the picture of Gula when she was young, living in a refugee camp on the Pakistan-Afghan border.

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Her startling green eyes, looking out from a scarf with a mixture of savagery and pain, made her known internationally, but her identity was only discovered in 2002 when McCurry returned to the region and tracked her down.

An FBI analyst, forensic sculptor and the inventor of iris recognition all confirmed her identity, National Geographic said at the time.

In 2016, Pakistan arrested Gula for forging a national identity card in an attempt to live in the country.

The then Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, welcomed her back and promised to give her an opportunity to ensure she “lives with dignity and security in her home country.”

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

Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing Angus MacSwan

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