The famed “Afghan Girl” is finally back to the country of her birth after a long-drawn-out legal procedure from the neighboring country of Pakistan. Sharbat Gula was welcomed Wednesday by Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani with a small ceremony at the presidential palace.
Gula, 44, had fled from Afghanistan in the mid-1980s as a young girl as a result of the war. In late 1984, American photojournalist Steve McCurry photographed her as a young girl living in the largest refugee camp in Pakistan. Gracing the cover of the National Geographic magazine in 1985, the “Afghan Girl” became the international symbol of the refugee crisis.
McCurry went on to track Gula down and photographed her again in 2002.
Last week, she pleaded guilty to possessing a fraudulent Pakistani national ID card in a court in Peshawar, which could have seen her face up to 14 years in prison. However, in accordance with her plea, she was sentenced to 15 days in jail and a fine of 110,000 rupees (about $1,050).
Pakistan was pressed by Afghanistan's government for leniency on grounds of Gula’s health and responsibility of her children. She spent most of her jail term at a local hospital in Peshawar, receiving treatment. Her husband, Rahmat Gul, died of hepatitis four years ago, and she had been living in the city for the past few years.
As Ghani welcomed Gula home Wednesday, he said: “The woman who stands next to me became an iconic figure representing Afghan deprivation, Afghan hope and Afghan aspirations. All of us are inspired by her courage and determination.”
He also reportedly presented her with keys to a government-provided apartment in Kabul.
Almost 3 million Afghans live in Pakistan, mostly as refugees fleeing from years of conflict. Pakistan has recently taken a stronger stand against these refugees, reportedly forcing thousands of them to cross the border into Afghanistan.
“We left Afghanistan because of the fighting,” Gula’s brother, Kashar Khan, told National Geographic in 2002. “The Russians were everywhere. They were killing people. We had no choice.”
Gula told CNN earlier this month: “I want to go back to Afghanistan, to my hometown. I don't want to go anywhere but Afghanistan.”