Although there is no specific reason for it, the number 39 has become linked to prostitution in the central Asian country. At best it is the object of ridicule and derision, at worst it is considered cursed.
The Wall Street Journal tells the story of 28-year-old Ghafar, who lives in the nation’s capital city, Kabul, where the 39-phobia is at its strongest.
The licence plate of his beat-up 1995 Toyota Corolla ends in the number 39. Ghafar is teased, taunted and called a pimp, and worst of all, he can’t find anyone to sell it to.
“I'm the first and last owner of the car," he said. "Nobody will buy it."
Ghafar explained the number plate – in combination with his sharp tongue – also cost him a childhood friend.
“A classmate of mine was always joking with me and saying I was a pimp. I said, 'If I'm a pimp then bring your sister and mother around'. We're not friends anymore.”
Used car salesmen in Kabul are onto the curse too. Mahfuzullah Khairkhwa admitted he paid significantly less for vehicles with 39 in their licence plates and then sold them for a profit in other parts of Afghanistan where the curse has not caught on.
The problem reached its height earlier this year when the government’s transport department began distributing five-digit licence plates that began with 39.
A number of motorists refused to accept them, preferring to wait until 40xxx plates were issued. The plate snub became so widespread that the government was forced to address it directly on national television and posted notices outside the Kabul vehicle registration office.
“It is nonsense," the head of Kabul's transport department, Gen. Assadullah, told the Wall Street Journal. "It's just a number.”