In the space of a few weeks, 39, has become a mark of shame, especially in Kabul. Owners of plates that include 39 are mocked as pips and drug dealers.
”Now even little kids say ‘look, there goes the 39′. This car is a bad luck, I can’t take my family out in it,” said Mohammad Ashraf who works for a United Nations project.
Other ”39” owners flew into a rage or refused to speak when asked whether their car was a burden.
The origins of the ’39’ hate trend are unclear, but urban legend has it that a pimp in neighbouring Iran, had a flashy car with a 39 in its number plate, so he was nicknamed ”39” and the tag spread.
It is only a few weeks since similar treatment was given to owners of imported cars with rainbow decorations that highly popular until some bright spark mentioned that it was also a gay pride symbol.
Dealers say thousands of dollars of stock is now sitting unwanted in their yards, with even a prime condition vehicle almost unsaleable if its plates bear the now-hated numerals.
The head of the union of car dealers in Kabul, Najibullah Amiri, blames corrupt police officers for fanning the trend.
The issue has gained prominence just as number plates for Afghan cars – which carry five digits – rolled over from the series that starts with 38, to a new series that starts with 39.
Amiri said officials at the police traffic department charge buyers between $200 and $500 to change a ”39” number plate for a new car to something less offensive.
”It is a scheme by the police traffic department to earn money from buyers,” he told Reuters in his office in a dusty car sales lot in the western outskirts of Kabul.
That is certainly conspiracy theory Afghan style.