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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Story of ’39’, The ‘Disgraceful’ Number In Afghanistan

Afghan government decides to remove the number from its numerical system of plate registration

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Omid Sobhani
Omid Sobhani
Omid Sobhani is a senior journalist at Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Transcontinental Times.

AFGHANISTAN. Herat: Nasir, a citizen of Afghanistan was happily heading to his home to show his new car to his family. He had bought this car with a huge amount of money. However, as soon as Muhammad, Nasir’s older brother saw the car number plate, he warned Nasir to sell the car back or get the number changed.

Nasir then had to pay 5,000 Afghani (equal to $64.86) to get the number changed to get rid of the “shameful” number.

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For years, the Taboo number ‘39’ has been considered a symbol of great shame and disgrace in Afghanistan. There have been different narratives about the number. But a shopkeeper in Herat, from where ‘39’ originated and spread to all cities, told Transcontinental Times the real story. 

Read Also: India and Iran Offer Military Support To Afghanistan, As US Troops Leave

The story behind the number ‘‘39”

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Gholam, 65, a shopkeeper from Herat told the story behind ’39’ to Transcontinental Times. Talking about this he said, ”As far as I remember, a pimp, or “Mordagaw” (Persian term, literally means someone who does sex with buried dead women), lived in Payen Hab area of Herat, and carried the number ‘‘39” on his car’s plate number. Since then, whoever had the same number on his car, people would call him Mordaqaw (pimp). Therefore, that pimp man contaminated it.”

“It goes way back to the era of Afghanistan’s King Muhammad Zahir Shah, late in the 1960s. But it’s a simple issue and illogical, people should ignore that.”

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According to the sources, the traffic departments have got millions of money from Afghan people for many years. “It is simple when you buy a car, you have to go to the traffic department to change the number and in return, you must fill their pockets,” Faisal, a citizen from Herat who experienced the taboo, said.

When asked about how can a car number be changed, he replied, “For instance, you bought a car and want to register it in the traffic department, you must pay them not to add the number ‘39’ in your car’s plate number.”

If you don’t do that, people will laugh at you,” he added while laughing out loud.

Even high-profile people in Afghanistan consider this as a ‘shameful’ thing. On November 17, 2011, the Afghan Higher Loya Jirga, or grand assembly of tribal elders, convened by the former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, was trying to discuss the Afghan-US relations. Some delegates refused to join committee ‘39’, which was part of the agenda to divide the elders into 40 committees to discuss the topic. Ultimately, the officials established committee 41 to continue the talks, after getting harsh reactions from the elders.

Reduction in car prices

The number has severely hit the car drivers. For years, car drivers across Afghanistan have repeatedly called the government to pay attention to the “mentally wrong” digit which has created problems for them. 

In 2013, the Kabul traffic department had earned over two million Afghani, the department told Khaama Press. They also added that when it comes to cars with the number ‘39’, people usually didn’t buy them.

Naser said that there is another problem apart from the widespread effect of this number. While selling the car, some car owners have seen a huge reduction in the price of their car. “This is bad luck if you don’t notice the number plate when buying. You should sell your car only to someone who is not aware of the taboo like I was,” he said.

Afghan government removes ’39’ from the numerical system of plate registration

On Thursday, the first Afghan vice president Amrullah Saleh ordered the traffic department not to issue vehicle registration plates that include ‘39’. “No one should give bribes due to the number from Saturday,” he said. 

“Some pay up to $300 as a bribe to avoid being issued vehicle registration plates having ‘39’,” he asserted on his Facebook page

“Since this number ‘39’ has been a “dairy cow” for some spoilers, the traffic department is ordered to remove this number from vehicle registration system across Afghanistan forever.”


  • Omid Sobhani

    Omid Sobhani is a senior journalist at Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Transcontinental Times.

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