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2014-07-23 12:05

NO-GO IN KABUL: Afghans' aversion to the number 39 due to its mysterious connotations of prostitution. Image: AFP/Shah Marai

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghans' aversion to the number 39 due to its mysterious connotations of prostitution have forced the government to appeal to people to stop refusing vehicle licence plates carrying the much-feared figure.

The "Curse of 39" has struck repeatedly in recent years, returning as registration number combinations cycle, with car dealers complaining they get stuck with vehicles that they are unable to sell due to a bizarre urban legend.

According to many Afghans, "39" got its bad reputation through a well-known pimp who was often identified by the number on his car plates as he drove around Herat, the western city that lies close to the border with Iran.


The man's seedy image and illicit business meant the number became associated with immorality. Apocryphal or not, the tale spread to other Afghan cities - and the curse was born.

Now anybody seen with a "39" plate is in danger of being linked to the underground sex industry that is taboo in the rigidly Muslim nation.

The vehicle licensing system is now putting 39 at the front of plate numbers, causing a backlog of sales as potential buyers refuse to make a purchase that could bring ridicule. Interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told the Tolo news channel: "We cannot remove 39 - this is illogical to remove a number from the whole system. The people should accept the number plates that contain 39 so that the process of registering cars can resume.

"We cannot change the system, we have to change the people's mentality."


The Kabul traffic department said it had 800 plates that nobody would take. Traffic boss General Assadullah told AFP: "This has harmed our revenue. It has halved in 2014. The process of distributing new number plates has been very slow because the registration is now beginning with 39 and people don't want to take them."

Buyers are paying bribes to avoid the number on new vehicles; owners who do have 39 on their plates often doctor them illegally with white paint to change the digits.

Sediq, implying that the rumour-mongers were those accepting bribes, asserted: "The people who fan this idea are those who are corrupt, those who intentionally want to misuse it for their own benefit."

Read more on:    afghanistan  |  kabul  |  licence

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