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Afghan president welcomes back Sharbat Gula, offers her furnished apartment

Afghan president welcomes back Sharbat Gula, offers her furnished apartment

KABUL: The Afghan president on Wednesday welcomed back Sharbat Gula, the green-eyed ‘Afghan Girl’ whose 1985 photo in National Geographic became a symbol of her country’s wars, offering her a furnished apartment after she was deported by Pakistan.

Pakistani security officials escorted her overnight from a Peshawar hospital, where she had been staying since her arrest last month for living illegally in Pakistan, and handed her over to Afghan authorities at the Torkham border.

“I welcome her back to the bosom of her motherland,” President Ashraf Ghani said with an expressionless Gula standing beside him during a small ceremony at the palace in Kabul.

“I’ve said repeatedly, and I like to repeat it again, that our country is incomplete until we absorb all of our refugees.” Ghani offered Gula a furnished apartment to ensure she “lives with dignity and security in her homeland”.

Gula, wearing a burqa that was pulled back to show her face, did not comment during the ceremony, which her children also attended.

She was for years an unnamed celebrity after an image of her as a teenage Afghan refugee was featured on National Geographic magazine’s cover in 1985, her striking green eyes peering out from a headscarf with a mixture of ferocity and pain.

The image became a symbol of Afghanistan’s suffering during the 1980s Soviet occupation and US-backed mujahideen insurgency against it. In 2001, National Geographic sent photographer Steve McCurry to find the girl in the photo, eventually identified as Gula.

“The woman who stands next to me became an iconic figure representing Afghan deprivation, Afghan hope and Afghan aspirations,” Ghani said. “All of us are inspired by her courage and determination.”

Gula had been living in Peshawar for years with her children and husband, who died five years ago.

Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2016

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