Deported Afghan girl says NatGeo picture caused more pain than gain

Published: January 19, 2017
An image of Sharbat Gula holding the cover she was featured in June 1985. PHOTO: STEVE MCCURRY

An image of Sharbat Gula holding the cover she was featured in June 1985. PHOTO: STEVE MCCURRY

Sharbat Gula, the green-eyed Afghan woman who appeared on the National Geographic cover in 1984, has said the iconic photo “created more problems than benefits” for her.

The green-eyed ‘Afghan refugee girl’ whose NatGeo picture became a symbol of her country’s wars, told BBC she had mixed feelings about the picture taken of her by Steve McCurry. “The photo created more problems than benefits. It made me famous but also led to my imprisonment,” she said.

She went on to say that she did not like the photo and the media, however, “now I am very happy that it gave me honour and made me popular among people.” Gula said she felt exalted because the income from the photo helped a lot of widows and orphans.

NatGeo ‘Afghan girl’ Sharbat Gula deported

Gula was deported to Afghanistan following her arrest from Peshawar last year over illegally obtaining Pakistani identity documents. Her deportation came after 15 days of imprisonment.

She now aspires to set up an NGO to offer free medical treatment to the underprivileged people of her home country, Afghanistan. “I want to establish an NGO to offer people free medical treatment,” Gula said during an exclusive interview with BBC.

Talking about her life, the Afghan woman said she faced a myriad of hardships as her husband died of hepatitis C and so did her eldest daughter. “I want peace and I pray to God no one is forced to leave their country and become a refugee,” she said.


NatGeo’s ‘Afghan girl’ opts for Afghanistan

Delving into the details of her life as a refugee in Pakistan, Gula said she lived for 35 years in Pakistan. “It was a very good life but I did not expect the [Pakistani] government to behave so harshly and put me behind bars.”

Gula expressed her contentment over her repatriation to her homeland, saying she was very happy to have returned to Afghanistan. “President Ashraf Ghani, former president Hamid Karzai and all Afghans helped me,” she said.


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Reader Comments (4)

  • fahim
    Jan 19, 2017 - 4:53PM

    She shouldn’t be kicked outRecommend

  • GIScientist
    Jan 19, 2017 - 5:58PM

    NOT DEPORTED AT ALL, she went by her self. Do your record straight. Recommend

  • Khan
    Jan 19, 2017 - 6:38PM

    Good to hear that she is happy…..I am sure all other Afghans will find happiness in their motherland too….

    After all Afghanistan belong to them…. So repatriate ASAP otherwise few people of Afghanistan will distribute the wealth among them and capture lands (just like happened in Pakistan)..Afghans should go and take their share before it’s taken.Recommend

  • sterry
    Jan 20, 2017 - 10:16PM

    @Khan: Al Afghan nationals need to go home ASAP and build their own country or go Europe as refugees living on welfare. Pakistan has suffered enough from presence of these refugees.Recommend

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