It was an image that touched the hearts of millions: A 5-year-old Afghan boy wearing an improvised Lionel Messi jersey made from a plastic bag.
Now, nearly a year later, Murtaza Ahmadi has finally met his idol.
Murtaza made a special trip from Afghanistan to Qatar, where Messi was with his Barcelona teammates to play a friendly match against Al Ahli on Tuesday.
In a meeting arranged by the organising committee of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Messi held hands with Murtaza at the team hotel before picking up the boy and posing for photographs.
Murtaza was wearing a Barcelona jersey.
“I’m very happy to have met my hero. It is a dream for me,” said Murtaza, in quotes supplied by the World Cup organising committee.
Murtaza, who is now aged 6, will walk out onto the field with the five-time world player of the year before Tuesday’s match.
The boy became an internet sensation early this year when pictures of him playing near his home in eastern Ghazni province were widely circulated.
They showed him wearing a plastic bag in blue-and-white stripes, like the Argentina national team jersey with Messi and the No. 10 written in black marker.
A few weeks later, Messi sent signed Barcelona and Argentina jerseys to Murtaza.
Murtaza’s father, Mohammad Arif Ahmadi, said in May that the family was forced to leave Afghanistan amid constant telephone threats and fears that Murtaza would be kidnapped because of his sudden notoriety.
“Life became a misery for us,” said the father at the time, speaking to The Associated Press over the telephone from the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the family had settled.
The meeting between Messi and Murtaza comes at a time when Qatar is introducing long-expected reforms to policies governing its vast foreign-labour force, who labour and human rights activists say are open to abuse by the current system.
Qatar says it is abolishing the “kafala” sponsorship system that binds workers to their employer.
Rights groups say the changes fall far short of what is needed to protect the multitudes of mostly Asian low-wage workers transforming the tiny country.
tween Islamabad and New Delhi on the matter of the two dams being constructed by India, calling on both countries “to consider alternative ways to resolve their disagreements”.
In the aftermath of rising cross-border tensions following the Uri army base attack and an alleged Indian ‘surgical strike’, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November threatened to stop honouring the Indus Waters Treaty and block the flow of water into Pakistan.
India is constructing two hydropower projects on the Chenab River. Pakistan has objected to the construction of the 850MegaWatt Ratle and 330MW Kishanganga hydropower schemes, saying that both projects would have adverse impact on the flow of the Chenab and Neelum rivers.
Both countries had initiated separate processes in the WB under the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), with India requesting the body for appointment of a ‘Neutral Expert’, and Pakistan calling for the appointment of the chairman of the Court of Arbitration.
The WB explained the pause saying: “Both processes initiated by the respective countries were advancing at the same time, creating a risk of contradictory outcomes that could potentially endanger the Treaty.”
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said Pakistan and India should look to resolve the conflict mutually and within the bounds of the IWT.
“This is an opportunity for the two countries to begin to resolve the issue in an amicable manner and in line with the spirit of the treaty rather than pursuing concurrent processes that could make the treaty unworkable over time,” he said. “I would hope that the two countries will come to an agreement by the end of January .”
“Pausing the process for now, the Bank would hold off from appointing the Chairman for the Court of Arbitration or the Neutral Expert – appointments that had been expected on December 12 as earlier communicated by the Bank,” the WB statement said.
The WB has sent letters to the finance ministers of Pakistan and India to apprise them of the decision taken to “safeguard