Monday, 27 June 2011

Kabul’s Car Market Gets Pimped Out

Just over a month ago, an irresistible slice-of-life story jumped the divide between Afghan and western media.

National Public Radio was the first to report on the trend story of Afghan aversion to the number 39:
It’s hard to find a credible story to explain what exactly it means, but everyone knows it’s bad. Many Afghans say that the number 39 translates into morda-gow, which literally means “dead cow” but is also a well-known slang term for a procurer of prostitutes — a pimp.
In Afghanistan, being called a pimp is offensive, and calling someone a pimp could carry deadly consequences. Similarly, being associated with the number 39 — whether it’s on a vehicle license plate, an apartment number or a post office box — is considered a great shame. And some people will go to great lengths to avoid it.
Three weeks later the Wall Street Journal weighed in on the conspiracy theories swirling around the growing taboo:
One rather credible conspiracy theory contends that the entire 39 mania has been inflamed by underhanded Kabul car dealers.
Kabul car dealer Mahfuzullah Khairkhwa, who has 39 on his own license plate, admitted that, at the very least, he takes advantage of the curse to turn an easy profit.
“The problem is only in Kabul,” said Mr. Khairkhwa, who conceded that he could knock several thousand dollars off the purchase price of a car in Kabul with 39 on its plate and then turn around to sell it for a profit in the surrounding provinces, where the urban legend has yet to spread.
The head of the union of car dealers in Kabul offered a retort in a Reuters piece this month:
…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.
This is not the first salacious episode involving Kabul’s automotive fleet.  As the "39" story was breaking, drivers were  urgently removing rainbow decals that had begun arriving stuck onto  imported cars and became fashionable until conservative Afghans learned they were also gay pride symbols.

Rainbow stickers can be peeled off but Kabul’s problem with pimp-mobiles has, overnight, thrown the city’s booming car sales industry into chaos.  Dealers are reporting that “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.”

To read the rest of this article, visit, where it was originally published

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