Afghan woman on the iconic National Geographic cover arrives in Italy

Italy has provided a refuge for Sharbat Gula, the green-eyed “Afghan girl” whose 1985 photo in National Geographic became a symbol of her country’s wars, Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s office said on Thursday.

The government intervened after Gula asked for help to leave Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover of the country in August, a statement said, noting that her arrival was part of a broader program to evacuate and integrate Afghan citizens.

The American photographer Steve McCurry took the picture of Gula when she lived as a young woman in a refugee camp on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Her green eyes, looking out from a scarf with a mixture of savagery and pain, made her known internationally, but her identity was only discovered in 2002 when McCurry returned to the region and tracked her down. An FBI analyst, forensic sculptor and the inventor of iris recognition all confirmed her identity, National Geographic said at the time.

Gula’s National Geographic cover image was seen around the world. In this image from 2016, a bookstore owner shows a copy of the magazine from his collection in Islamabad. (BK Bangash / The Associated Press)

In 2016, Pakistan arrested Gula for forging a national identity card in an attempt to live in the country.

Then-Afghan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed her back and promised to give her an opportunity to ensure she “lives with dignity and security in her home country.”

Since taking power, Taliban leaders have said they would respect women’s rights in accordance with sharia or Islamic law. But under the Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001, women could not work and girls were banned from school. Women were to cover their faces and be accompanied by a male relative when they left home.

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