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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 14:19 GMT
Afghan girl found after 17 years
Sharbat Gula
Sharbat Gula in 1984 and today
Seventeen years ago, a young Afghan girl gained international attention when her face appeared on the cover of the National Geographic magazine.

Her eyes were piercing and green, and a red scarf was draped loosely over her hair.

Now the magazine says it has tracked down the subject of that famous photo - with the help of high-tech iris recognition technology.

The girl - now a wife and mother living in a remote part of Afghanistan - will once again feature in the magazine, for an issue focusing on the plight of refugees.

Orphaned refugee

Sharbat Gula was 13 when the photograph was taken in 1984, which would make her just over 30 now.

National Geographic, April issue front cover
She will feature again in the National Geographic, 17 years on
An ethnic Pashtun whose parents were killed during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, she was living with the remaining members of her family in Pakistan's Nasir Bagh refugee camp when she was spotted by photographer Steve McCurry.

Since then, the picture has been reproduced countless times in books and posters around the world.

"This portrait summed up for me the trauma and plight, and the whole situation of suddenly having to flee your home and end up in a refugee camp hundreds of miles away," said Mr McCurry.

Ever since the picture was published, he has received constant inquiries about the girl, and has returned to the region more than 10 times to look for her.

Finally, with the help of a team from the National Geographic, he tracked her down to her native Afghan village near the Pakistan border.

Hard life

Sharbat Gula married shortly after the picture was taken, and has since given birth to four daughters, one of whom died as an infant.

She didn't even like the picture, because of the hole in the shawl

Don Halcombe, National Geographic
In 1985 she went into purdah and her face was concealed by a veil.

After meeting her again, Mr McCurry said: "She's had a hard life. And so many here share her story."

According to the National Geographic, Sharbat Gula was completely unaware of the effect her picture has had, and had never seen it until the team arrived.

"She didn't even like the picture, because of the hole in the shawl," said Don Halcombe, the magazine's publicity manager.

"She remembered the day she burned it on a stove."

To make certain they had the right woman, the researchers used FBI iris-scanning technology and face-recognition techniques to prove her identity.

No two people have the same iris pattern and the technology was able to verify that Sharbat Gula was indeed the girl in the photograph.

The BBC's Nick Hawton
"She had never seen the famous photograph"
Photographer Steve McCurry
"The best part is that she is still alive"
See also:

08 Mar 02 | South Asia
Afghan women hope for breakthrough
06 Feb 02 | South Asia
Afghan women embrace new prospects
23 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan women enjoy their freedom
08 Dec 01 | South Asia
Afghan women still wait for liberty
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