Sharbat Gula-Afghan Girl

Sharbat Gula, who became known internationally as “Afghan girl” after she was featured on a 1985 cover of National Geographic, has arrived in Rome, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s office said on Thursday.

Driving the news: Gula, who was pictured in National Geographic when she was 12 years old, was evacuated after appealing for help to leave the country following the Taliban’s takeover in August, Draghi’s office said.

The woman in the photograph has haunted the West ever since Sept. 11, 2001. Her image came into our living rooms, her face contorted with fear beneath a turquoise burqa shrouding an afghan dress that was more suited to a summer picnic than wintertime flight on a rickety Russian jetliner. It hit us right away: This is no ordinary refugee who leaves behind her burned out village or bombed out neighborhood for what she thinks will be the safety of Afghanistan’s capital city. But this woman did not even want to go to Kabul, eventually preferring Italy or Germany—and leaving her homeland for good.

Sharbat Gula

“She wants to go far away from here.”

The photographer who captured this image will never forget what he saw that night in Peshawar’s refugee camp: the fear and panic of an 18-year old woman facing deportation with two young children in tow; she had fled Afghanistan after the Soviets invaded her country, but now it is the Taliban who has forced her to make a decision she does not want to make.

Not even his job as one of the world’s best-known photojournalists could shield him from her pain—nor would he want it shielded. “This photograph,” said Steve McCurry , “is not really about a specific event. It’s about people and their dreams and the struggle for freedom of expression. It took this woman a year to decide she could step out from beneath that burqa, which was not her idea of herself, and be photographed.”

But that was then —1985 —the Cold War was raging, Ronald Reagan had just become president of the United States (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”) and the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan were filling up with more than three million Afghans fleeing Soviet occupation—more than seven million were on the move internally. Related Info

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