Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Sidestepping cursed number “39″ at the Afghan jirga
By Mirwaiz Harooni and Hamid Shalizi
Afghanistan’s trouble with the number “39″, which has come to acquire a negative connotation, cropped up again at this week’s loya jirga or traditional assembly called to discuss the country’s proposed strategic partnership with the United States. Some 2,000 delegates are attending the assembly and 40 committees were formed to separately deliberate the agreement that is expected to spell out the terms of a long term U.S. military presence in the country. Each committee is known by the number it was set up and so when it came to committee number 39, its members baulked.
“As the members were unwilling to work on committee 39, the best solution was to form committee 41,” said Safia Sediqqi, the loya jirga spokeswoman.
No one is quite sure why the number has become so contaminated, but is widely seen as an unlikely synonym for pimp and a mark of shame in the deeply conservative country. Kabul gossip blames it on a pimp in neighbouring Iran who had a flashy car with a 39 in its number plate. So he was nicknamed “39″ and the tag spread, the story goes. Earlier this summer, the country’s booming car sales industry was thrown into chaos with people refusing to buy any vehicle with that number.