How They Found National Geographic's "Afghan Girl"

David Braun
National Geographic News
Updated March 7, 2003

This story was first published a year ago, in March 2002, when the National Geographic Society announced that the "Afghan Girl" had been found.
A National Geographic EXPLORER documentary airing in the United States on Sunday, March 9, 2003, tells the whole story, including an interview with Sharbat Gula.

She was one of the world's most famous faces, yet no one knew who she was. Her image appeared on the front of magazines and books, posters, lapel pins, and even rugs, but she didn't know it. Now, after searching for 17 years, National Geographic has once again found the Afghan girl with the haunting green eyes.

The mysterious Afghan girl whose direct gaze has intrigued the West for so long is Sharbat Gula. She lives in a remote region of Afghanistan with her husband and three daughters.

Sharbat was located nearly two decades after her picture appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985. She had no idea her face had become an icon, said Steve McCurry, the photographer who made the famous portrait for National Geographic in 1984, and who tried to find her again during many subsequent trips he made to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

McCurry's photo of the girl was selected as the cover of National Geographic 100 Best Pictures.

In January 2002, a National Geographic team returned to the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Pakistan, where Sharbat Gula was originally photographed, to search for her. She was identified through a series of contacts that led to her brother and husband, who agreed to ask her if she was willing to be interviewed.

Sharbat has been photographed on only two occasions: in 1984 and at the reunion with Steve McCurry this year. She had never seen her famous portrait before it was shown to her in January.

"This is the face that so captivated not only National Geographic readers but also anyone who saw her image around the world," said Boyd Matson, host of the National Geographic television show EXPLORER, who was with the group that met with Gula.

"We've known her face, but we've not known her story, not even her name," he said.

Final Search

National Geographic set out to make one last concerted effort to find the "Afghan girl" before the refugee camp in Pakistan where she had last been seen was demolished.

Continued on Next Page >>


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