Pakistan on Wednesday deported Sharbat Gula, the green-eyed “Afghan Girl” whose 1985 photo in National Geographic became a symbol of her country’s wars, medical and security officials said.
Police escorted Gula overnight from a Peshawar hospital, where she had been staying since her arrest last month for living illegally in Pakistan, and handed over to Afghan authorities at the Torkham border.
Gula’s deportation comes amid Pakistani pressure to send 2.5 million Afghan refugees back home even though Afghanistan is facing a bloody Taliban insurgency and would struggle to look after so many returnees.
“We took Sharbat Gula from the hospital in a convoy and delivered her to the Afghan border authorities at Torkham,” said a senior security official, who declined to be named.
During her transfer back to Afghanistan, Gula, wearing a green burqa, was heard praying for Pakistan, its people and everyone who helped her and her family during their stay in the country, the official added.
Gula is expected later on Wednesday to be flown back to Kabul, where President Ashraf Ghani would host a function in her honor. Public billboards were already up welcoming her back home.
Gula was for years an unnamed celebrity after an image of her as a teenage Afghan refugee was featured on National Geographic magazine’s cover in 1985, her striking green eyes peering out from a headscarf with a mixture of ferocity and pain.
The image became a symbol of Afghanistan’s suffering during the 1980s Soviet occupation and US-backed mujahadeen insurgency against it.
The Soviet withdrawal in 1989 led to the collapse of the Kabul government and years of civil war until the Taliban movement seized power in the mid-1990s.
After the Taliban regime fell to the US-backed military action in 2001, National Geographic sent photographer Steve McCurry to find the girl in the photo, eventually identified as Gula.
She had been living in Peshawar for years with her children and husband, who died five years ago.
Her four children were expected to leave Pakistan to be reunited with their mother later on Wednesday.