Sharbat Gula

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Sharbat Gula
شربت ګله
Bornc. 1972 (age 49–50)
Known forCover photo of the June 1985 issue of National Geographic magazine
Spouse(s)Rahmat Gul (?–2012; his death)
Children5 (1 deceased)

Sharbat Gula (Pashto: شربت ګله; born c. 1972) is an Afghan woman who became internationally known for her photograph taken by photojournalist Steve McCurry during the Soviet–Afghan War, when 12-year-old Gula was living in a refugee camp in Pakistan. The photo, known as Afghan Girl, gained international attention in June 1985 after appearing on the cover of National Geographic magazine. Gula's identity was unknown until 2002, when her whereabouts were verified and she was photographed for the second time in her life.[1] Having lived and raised a family in Pakistan for 35 years, in 2017 Gula was deported to Afghanistan for having forged identity documents. The return of the Taliban to Afghanistan in 2021 put Gula's life in jeopardy, and she requested and received asylum in Italy in November 2021.

Early life[edit]

Gula was born around 1972 into a Pashtun family.[2] In the early 1980s, her village was attacked by Soviet helicopters and it was initially reported that during the attacks her parents were killed.[2] Her sisters, brothers and grandmother moved to Pakistan to the Nasir Bagh refugee camp on the border with Afghanistan.[2] However, Gula corrected the earlier reports, stating that her mother died of appendicitis and that her father was alive when they moved to Pakistan. [3]

Afghan Girl photograph[edit]

Sharbat Gula – Brussels – 2017
2012-04-05 MACRO Testaccio esterno

In 1984, National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry travelled to Afghanistan to document the effects of the war, visiting refugee camps, many of which were on the Afghan-Pakistan border.[4][5] Whilst there, McCurry took what was to become one of the most iconic cover photographs for National Geographic.[2] While Gula was attending school at the refugee camp in Pakistan, McCurry photographed her and other girls.[6] It was later alleged that McCurry did not obtain permission to take the images, which contradict Pashtun culture, where women should not show their faces to men outside the family.[6]

Initially, the magazine's editor did not want to use the image, but eventually gave in, publishing a cover image which was simply called Afghan Girl.[4][7] The photo, which shows a girl with a striking green eye colour, looking straight into the lens, became a symbol of the Afghan conflict and the problems affecting refugees around the world.[4]

The image is the only one to have been used three times on a National Geographic cover.[8]

Marriage and family life[edit]

In the mid 1980s, she was married to baker Rahmat Gula when she was aged 13, and returned to Afghanistan in 1992.[9][10] As of 2002, Gula had three daughters, Robin, Zahid and Alyan – her fourth daughter died shortly after birth.[11] She later had a son. Her husband died from hepatitis C around 2012.[12] She expressed hopes that her children will be able to gain an education.

Asked if she had ever felt safe, she responded, "No. But life under the Taliban was better. At least there was peace and order." When asked how she had survived, she responded that it was "the will of God".[13]

Identifying Sharbat Gula[edit]

The identity of the girl remained unknown for more than 17 years.[9] In the 1990s, the journalist made several unsuccessful attempts to find out the girl's name.[14] In January 2002, a National Geographic team led by Steve McCurry travelled to Afghanistan to find her, however during this search several women and men came forward, claiming to either be Gula, or to be married to her.[14] Eventually she was tracked down through a camp resident who knew her brother.[14] Her identity was verified by John Daugman using iris recognition software.[15]

A devout Muslim, Gula normally wears a burqa and was hesitant to meet McCurry, as he was a male from outside the family. In the intervening years, Gula had no idea how globally symbolic her face had become.[16] When asked how she felt about the photograph, she replied, "I became very surprised [because] I didn't like media and taking photos from childhood. At first, I was concerned about the publicity of my photo but when I found out that I have been the cause of support/help for many people/refugees, then I became happy."[17]

After finding Gula, National Geographic covered the costs of medical treatment for her family and a pilgrimage to Mecca.[18]

Deportation to Afghanistan in 2017, evacuated to Italy in 2021[edit]

In 2015, Pakistani newspapers reported that the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) had canceled Gula's Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) and those of her two sons. Reports claimed the cards had been issued illegally. A NADRA source reportedly said, "They may not be her sons but this is a common practice among Afghan refugees whereby they list names of non-relatives as their children to obtain documents." A relative said that the family lives in Pakistan, but "We travel between Pakistan and Afghanistan depending on the security situation."[19]

On 26 October 2016, Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency arrested Gula for living in Pakistan with forged documents.[20][21] She was sentenced to fifteen days in detention, fined, and, after living in Pakistan for 35 years,[17] deported to Afghanistan.[12][22] The decision was criticized by Amnesty International as emblematic of Pakistan's cruel treatment of Afghan refugees.[12] In Kabul, Sharbat Gula and her children were welcomed by then-President Ashraf Ghani and former President Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace. The government promised to support her financially.[17] In December 2017, Sharbat Gula was given a 3,000-square-foot (280 m2) residence in Kabul for her and her children and a $700 per month stipend for living and medical costs.[23]

After the Taliban capture of Kabul in 2021, the Taliban threatened or intimidated high-profile women such as Gula.[24] At her request, she was evacuated to Italy at the end of November 2021,[25][26][27] where she was granted refugee status.[28]

Popular culture[edit]


The Finnish metal band Nightwish dedicated an instrumental work to Gula, on the 2015 album Endless Forms Most Beautiful entitled "The Eyes of Sharbat Gula".[29] Here Be Dragons, an album by The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble includes a composition called "Sharbat Gula".[30]


In 2017, the New England Review published a new work by poet Gjertrud Schnakenberg, entitled "Afghan Girl", which the author had been composing since 2012.[31]


  1. ^ The Story Behind Steve McCurry's Iconic 'Afghan Girl'—And How He Found Her Again 20 Years Later
  2. ^ a b c d Lucas, Dean (13 May 2013). "Afghan Eyes Girl". The Famous Pictures Collection. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  3. ^ "You'll Never See the Iconic Photo of the 'Afghan Girl' the Same Way Again".
  4. ^ a b c " Live Online". The Washington Post. 1 June 2013. Archived from the original on 1 June 2013. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  5. ^ McCurry, Steve (3 November 2016). "After her arrest, the 'Afghan Girl' is once again a symbol of refugees' plight". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  6. ^ a b "You'll Never See the Iconic Photo of the 'Afghan Girl' the Same Way Again". The Wire. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  7. ^ "Sharbat Gula: The iconic face of the refugee struggle". Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  8. ^ "Thoughts on Afghan Girl's Third Cover Appearance as National Geographic Looks Back, Forward". Reading The Pictures. 3 October 2013. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  9. ^ a b "'National Geographic' tracks down Afghan girl". Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  10. ^ "شربت گل: در کشورم صلح می‌خواهم تا دیگر کسی مجبور به مهاجرت نشود". BBC News فارسی (in Persian). Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  11. ^ "A Life Revealed". Magazine. 1 April 2002. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  12. ^ a b c "Pakistan to deport National Geographic's 'Afghan Girl' Sharbat Gula next week". ABC News. AP. 5 November 2016. Archived from the original on 5 November 2016. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  13. ^ Newman, Cathy (April 2002). "Afghan Girl: A Life Revealed". National Geographic Magazine. Archived from the original on 13 January 2012. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  14. ^ a b c Just advocacy? : women's human rights, transnational feminisms, and the politics of representation. Hesford, Wendy S.; Kozol, Wendy. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. 2005. ISBN 0-8135-3588-3. OCLC 56517431.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  15. ^ "How the Afghan Girl was Identified by Her Iris Patterns". 12 January 2012. Archived from the original on 12 January 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  16. ^ "Thinly veiled – Book Review – Religious culture". TLS. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  17. ^ a b c Azami, Dawood (16 January 2017). "'Green-eyed girl' in quest for new life". BBC News. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  18. ^ "'Afghan girl' cameraman tells stories behind pictures". The Bosnia Times. 30 October 2013. Archived from the original on 23 April 2014. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  19. ^ Ismail Khan (25 February 2015). "Pakistan issues CNIC to Nat Geo's famed 'Afghan Girl'". DAWN. Archived from the original on 28 June 2015. Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  20. ^ "FIA arrests NatGeo's Afghan girl in Peshawar". The Express Tribune. 26 October 2016. Archived from the original on 26 October 2016.
  21. ^ Boone, Jon (26 October 2016). "National Geographic 'Afghan Girl' arrested in Pakistan living under false papers". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 26 October 2016. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  22. ^ Lynne O'Donnell and Riaz Khan (9 November 2016). "Pakistan deports National Geographic's iconic 'Afghan Girl'". Toronto Sun. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  23. ^ Strochlic, Nina (12 December 2017). "Famed 'Afghan Girl' Finally Gets a Home". National Geographic. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  24. ^ Gross, Jenny (27 November 2021). "'Afghan Girl' from 1985 National Geographic cover takes refuge in Italy". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  25. ^ Suliman, Adela (27 November 2021). "'Afghan Girl' from National Geographic cover evacuated to Rome, Italian government says". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  26. ^ "McCurry's Afghan Girl arrives in Rome". ANSA. 25 November 2021. Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  27. ^ "National Geographic green-eyed 'Afghan Girl' evacuated to Italy". the Guardian. Associated Press. 25 November 2021. Retrieved 26 November 2021.
  28. ^ Hada Messia and Nicola Ruotolo (25 November 2021). "'Afghan Girl' from National Geographic magazine cover granted refugee status in Italy". CNN. Retrieved 26 November 2021.
  29. ^ "The Eyes of Sharbat Gula – Nightwish: Lyrics & Translation". Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  30. ^ "Sharbat Gula – The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble Key and BPM". Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  31. ^ "Afghan Girl". Work in Progress. 21 September 2017. Retrieved 2 September 2020.

External links[edit]