Afghan Girl is a photographic portrait by journalist Steve McCurry which appeared on the covers of National Geographic. The image is of a young woman with green eyes in a red headscarf looking intensely at the camera. It has been likened to Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of the Mona Lisa and has been called “the First World’s Third World Mona Lisa”. The image became “emblematic” of “refugee girl/woman located in some distant camp” deserving of the compassion of the Western viewer. The subject was identified as Sharbat Gula also known as Sharbat Bibi, an Afghan woman who was living in a refugee camp in Pakistan during the time soviet union of Afghanistan when she was photographed.
Here are some points about the Afghan Girl photograph.
Most recognized photograph
The image of her face, with a red scarf draped loosely over her head and her eyes staring directly into the camera was named “the most recognized photograph” in the history of the magazine, and the cover itself is one of the most famous of the National Geographic.
Finding the right subject
McCurry made several unsuccessful attempts to locate her. Back then, a National Geographic team traveled to Afghanistan to locate the subject. McCurry, upon learning that the Nasir Bagh refugee camp was soon to close, inquired of its remaining residents, one of whom knew Gula’s brother and was able to send word to her hometown.
However, a number of women came forward and identified themselves erroneously as the famous Afghan Girl. In addition, after being shown the photo, a handful of young men erroneously identified Gula as their wife. The team located Gula in a remote region of Afghanistan.
The region of tragedy
Gula’s parents were killed during the soviet union bombing of Afghanistan when she was six years old. Along with her grandmother, brother, and three sisters, she walked across the mountains to Pakistan and ended up in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Pakistan.
She returned to her native country from the refugee camp where her identity got confirmed using iris recognition. She recalled being photographed. She had been photographed on only three occasions and one was during the search for her when a National Geographic producer took the identifying pictures that led to the reunion with Steve McCurry.
Local newspapers in Pakistan reported that NADRA cancelled the Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) to Sharbat Bibi, issued illegally. It was stated that they travel between Pakistan and Afghanistan, depending on security situation along with their family.
Gula was arrested in Pakistan by Federal Investigation Agency for living in the country using forged documents. It was court ordered that she be deported back to Afghanistan after her 15-day detention ends.
Back to Afghanistan
She returned to her village in Afghanistan and is now a widow. Gula has three daughters. A fourth daughter died in infancy. She expressed hopes that her children will be able to get an education.
Symbol of War
The green-eyed Afghan Girl became a symbol of her country’s wars, after finding her guilty of illegally obtaining a Computerized National Identity Card.
National Geographic set up the Afghan Girls Fund, a charitable organization with the goal of educating Afghan girls and young women. Later the scope of the fund was broadened to include boys and the name was changed to Afghan Children’s Fund.