‘Afghan girl’ Sharbat Gula in quest for a new life

  • I want to establish a charity or a hospital to treat all poor, orphans and widows: Sharbat Gula
  • This was the hardest and worst incident in my life: Sharbat Gula

K. Male' | Aala Ibrahim | 25-January-2017 | Wednesday 20:57 | aalu_aala | Report | 1,862

Sharbat Gula sits alongside the iconic image taken when she was a child refugee -- Photo by: google

An Afghan woman made famous by a 1985 National Geographic cover has spoken of her hope for a new beginning, after being deported from Pakistan.

Sharbat Gula now lives with her five-year-old son and three daughters in Kabul, where she says she wants to live a normal life after years of tragedy and hardship.

Her portrait as a 10-year-old became an iconic image of Afghan refugees fleeing war.

The only time she has spoken to the media before now, her family says, was for a 2002 documentary after Steve McCurry, who took her original photo, tracked her down in Pakistan and found out who she was.

Sharbat Gula had no idea that her face had been famous around the world for almost seventeen years.

Like many Afghans, she sought refuge in Pakistan and lived there for 35 years - but she was imprisoned and deported last autumn for obtaining Pakistani identity papers "illegally".

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani received her at the presidential palace

Sharbat Gula now lives at her temporary residence in Kabul.

Her case highlighted the arbitrary arrest and forced deportation of Afghan refugees in the current spat between the two countries.

It has been illegal for non-Pakistanis to have IDs since they were first issued in the 1970s, but the law was often not enforced.

Now sick and frail in her mid-40s, Sharbat Gula's haunting eyes are still piercing, full of both fear and hope.

She says she had already sold her house in Pakistan because she feared arrest there for "not having proper documents to stay".

Two days before a planned move back to Afghanistan, her house was raided late in the evening and she was taken to prison.

Pakistan's government has ordered all two million Afghan refugees on its soil to leave.

Sharbat Gula believes the Pakistani authorities wanted to arrest her before she left.

According to her, she told the police that she made the ID card for only two things - to educate her children and sell her house - which were not possible to do without the ID card.

Sharbat Gula has now returned to Afghanistan, where the government promised her a house in Kabul

She served a 15-day prison sentence, the first week in prison and the second in hospital where she was treated for hepatitis C.

Realizing the reputational damage, Pakistan later offered to let her stay - but she refused saying that they allowed her in Pakistan for 35 years but at the end treated her like that.

Her husband and eldest daughter died in Peshawar and are buried there. Sharbat Gula said that if she ever wanted to go back, it would be just to offer prayer at the graves of her husband and daughter who are buried in front of the house they lived in.

The "Afghan Girl" picture was taken by Steve McCurry in 1984 in a refugee camp near Peshawar, when Sharbat Gula was studying in a tent school. Published in 1985, it became one of the most recognisable magazine covers ever printed.

For years, she was unaware of her celebrity.

None of Sharbat Gula's six children - another daughter died too at an early age and is buried in Peshawar - share the color of her eyes.

But her brother, Kashar Khan, does, and the eyes of one of her three sisters were also green.

She says her maternal grandmother had eyes of a similar color.

Sharbat Gula was a child living with her family in Kot district of eastern Nangarhar province when Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

According to her there was war between Russians and Afghanistan - which is why they left.

Her mother died of appendicitis in the village when she was eight. Like hundreds of thousands of other Afghans, her family (her father, four sisters and one brother) migrated to Pakistan and started living in a tent in a refugee camp called Kacha Garahi, on the outskirts of Peshawar.

She was married at 13. But her husband, Rahmat Gul, was later diagnosed with hepatitis C and died about five years ago. Her eldest daughter also died of hepatitis three years ago, aged 22, leaving a two-month-old daughter.

Sharbat Gula met President Ashraf Ghani in the presidential palace on her return, and later former President Hamid Karzai.

The government has promised to support her financially and buy her a house in Kabul.

Kot district is a stronghold of militants linked to the so-called Islamic State group, so she can't go home to her village. Her green-eyed brother and hundreds of others have fled the area, fearing IS brutality.

But Sharbat Gula's priority is to stay in her country, get better and see her children be educated and live happy lives.

"I want to establish a charity or a hospital to treat all poor, orphans and widows," she says.

"I would like peace to come to this country, so that people don't become homeless. May God fix this country."

"This was the hardest and worst incident in my life."

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