Afghan woman featured on iconic National Geographic cover arrives in Italy

Italy has given safe haven to 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 takeover of the country in August, a statement said, noting that her arrival was part of a broader program to evacuate and integrate Afghan citizens.

U.S. photographer Steve McCurry took the picture of Gula when she was a youngster, living in a refugee camp on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Her green eyes, peering out from a headscarf with a mixture of ferocity 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 verified her identity, National Geographic said at the time.

Gula’s National Geographic cover photo was seen around the world. In this image from 2016, a book shop owner shows a copy of the magazine from his collection in Islamabad. (B.K. Bangash/The Associated Press)

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

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

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.

What’s happening to the people of Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover? 

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