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Left For A Safe Haven?

It has been for quite some time that the Global Community forgot Sharbat Gula (b. March 20, 1972), the green-eyed Afghan girl whose 1985 cover photo in National Geographic magazine had become a symbol of her country’s decades-long wars. However, Italy still remembers her, and the Mario Draghi Government in Rome has provided Gula with shelter. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has confirmed the news, saying in a statement that the 49-year-old Gula arrived in the European country on November 25, 2021. According to the statement, her arrival is a part of the West’s evacuation of Afghans following the Taliban takeover of the war-ravaged country in August 2021. The Government of Italy decided to arrange political asylum for Gula soon after she sought international help to leave Afghanistan. Earlier, Prime Minister Draghi announced that his administration would evacuate and integrate the Afghan nationals.

It may be noted that US photographer Steve McCurry had clicked the world-famous picture of Gula when she was a youngster, living in a refugee camp on the Pakistan-Afghan border. The image of the adolescent girl, with green eyes in a red headscarf looking intensely at the camera, triggered a sensation soon after it found its place in the cover image of National Geographic in 1985. Although the identity of the photo’s subject was not initially known, she was identified as Sharbat Gula in early 2002. Later, an FBI analyst, forensic sculptor and the inventor of iris recognition helped McCurry identify Gula, a Pashtun child, living in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan while being photographed. The photo was not only compared to Leonardo da Vinci‘s painting of the Mona Lisa, but also called the First World’s Third World Mona Lisa. Gradually, the image became a symbol of Afghanistan to the West.

The Pakistani Authorities had detained Gula in 2016 for forging a National Identity Card in order to stay there. However, the then Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, helped her return to Afghanistan, and promised to give her an apartment. President Ghani wanted to ensure she “lives with dignity and security in her homeland”. The scenario changed in August, when the Taliban seized Power in Kabul, and reintroduced Sharia (Islamic Law). The terror outfit announced that they would forbid women to work, and girls to attain school. The Taliban also ordered women to cover their faces at public places.

Sharbat Gula: Now (L) & Then

As expected, Italy refused to recognise the Taliban-led Government in Afghanistan, and evacuated nearly 5,000 Afghans from the country in early September. In the first week of November, Rome announced that it granted citizenship to Afghanistan’s first Woman Chief Prosecutor, Maria Bashir, who arrived in the European country on September 9. Italy was one of five countries most involved with NATO’s US-led mission in Afghanistan, while other countries were Germany, Britain and Turkey.

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