Expressing disappointment at the way she was treated in Pakistan, NatGeo’s famed “Afghan Girl” Sharbat Gula, said she was taken aback by the treatment meted out to her by Islamabad.
“I had lived for 35 years in Pakistan. It was a very good life. I did not expect the government to behave so harshly and put me behind bars,” Gula told the BBC.
Her time in Pakistan was not all roses. “We were facing a lot of problems. We were refugees in someone else’s country. My husband and eldest daughter died of Hepatitis C.”
“Now I have come to my homeland and I am very happy. President Ashraf Ghani, former President Hamid Karzai and all the Afghans helped me.”
Speaking about whether she would have done anything differently if given the choice, she said, “If I could go back to being 10 again, I would have studied. I wouldn’t have married at 13.”
At first, she said, the famed National Geographic cover photo “created more problems than benefits”.
“It made me famous but also led to my imprisonment. After all these problems, I want to establish a non-governmental organisation to offer people free medical treatment.”
“Before this, I was a villager. I did not like the photo and the media. Now I am very happy that it gave me honour and made me popular among people. The income from the photo has helped a lot of widows and orphans. Now I am proud of it.”
“I want peace and I pray to God no one is forced to leave their country and become a refugee,” she said.
The portrait of Gula, whose sea-green eyes and piercing gaze, made her an international symbol of refugees facing an uncertain future, first appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985.
Photographer Steve McCurry photographed her as a young girl living in the largest refugee camp in Pakistan, where almost three million Afghans sought shelter in the wake of the 1979 invasion by the Soviet Union. In 2002, McCurry tracked Sharbat Gula down, now married and mother of five, and photographed her again.
That photo has been likened with Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
National Geographic also made a short documentary about her life and dubbed her the “Mona Lisa of Afghan war”.