Sharbat Gula, The Afghan Girl: Where Is She Today?

“The Afghan Girl”  at 12 years old. Where Is She Today?

Published on the cover of National Geographic’s June 1985 issue and became “the most recognized photograph.”

The young Afghan refugee, Sharbat Gula, who stared from the cover of National Geographic in June 1985 was an enigma for 17 years.

But what was her name? Had she survived?

Original photographer Steve McCurry joined a crew from National Geographic Television & Film to methodically search for her. They showed her photograph around a refugee camp in Pakistan where McCurry had encountered her as a schoolgirl in December 1984. Finally, after some false leads, a man who had also lived in the camp as a child recognized her. Yes, she was alive. She had left the camp many years before and was living in the mountainous Tora Bora region of Afghanistan. He said he could find her, and three days later he and a friend brought her back to the camp.

Sharbat Gula, of course, had no idea that her photograph was perhaps the most famous photograph in the world. That her eyes alone had mesmerized millions. Living a rural peasant life she now wore the hardship of the years on her unforgettable face. Her life story was one filled with fear and difficulty. A link for the detailed story is below.

Original photographer Steve McCurry took these new photographs.

Photographs by ©Steve McCurry via Nat. Geo.

Sharbat as a young girl and laterSharba as an adult.

Sharbat Gula is holding a copy of the original National Geographic cover portrait of herself.

Sharbat had known precious few days of peace since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. She was living as a refugee in Pakistan. This update was during 2002 and seemed like the conclusion of Sharbat’s moments of publicity.

HOWEVER, Sharbat’s story was going to continue, unknown to everyone. 

Three decades after she became an icon, an ID card mugshot of Sharbat Gula showed up in the media:

Sharbat Gula, in 2016.

This new picture of Sharbat Gula, a cheap mugshot of a middle-aged woman, is from a fake ID card issued to her in Pakistan. The card would afford her human rights.

Unfortunately, many Pakistanis hold hostility towards the Afghan population who are still refugees in their country after Russia’s invasion of their homeland. The Pakistani people believe that The Afghans have outstayed their welcome.

As for Sharbat’s welfare, a relative stated that she and her family live in Pakistan, but “We travel between Pakistan and Afghanistan depending on the security situation.”

The stories of general persecution, as well as specific examples, continue to come out of Pakistan. You can read more here and an overall article about Sharbat herself, here.

I hope that we see at least one more photograph of Sharbat, the next one smiling.

Update: I am thrilled to note that Steve McCurry now has a spectacular blog on


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