Loya jirga: Afghan elders reject 'pimp's number 39'

Members of the loya jirga stand up as the national anthem plays in Kabul November 16, 2011 Delegates have been discussing Afghan-US strategy - as well as the number 39

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Officials at a meeting of elders in Kabul changed a committee's number after delegates rejected 39 because of an Afghan belief that the number is associated with pimps.

Delegates at the gathering, or loya jirga, convened by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, divided into 40 groups to consider Afghan-US relations.

Elders refused to take part in group 39 until its number was changed to 41.

The number is held as a mark of great shame across Afghanistan.

Correspondents say some believe the taboo started because a pimp had 39 on his vehicle number plate. But others say it dates from an old way of calculating numbers called "Abjad".

Many delegates at the loya jirga voiced their fervent opposition to being part of committee 39, one attendee told the BBC's Bilal Sarwary in Kabul.

''One delegate said: 'I don't want to return to my area and be called a pimp. I don't care if it is true or not, but people out there believe in it. Look no one wants to have a vehicle with number plate 39. And yet, you want me to be in 39?''' the member said.

But there were some who saw the outcry as an unnecessary diversion from more important matters.

"It is sad to see delegates raise such issues at such an important meeting. We have more important things to deal with," one delegate from northern Afghanistan said.

"But when I raised it, everyone else told me to shut up. Everyone said, they didn't want to be called [a pimp] or their children and family members harassed in streets, schools and neighbourhoods. So than a committee 41 was established,'' the delegate continued.

Officials at the loya jirga said they never expected this to be a sticking point at the gathering, which is considering reconciliation with the Taliban as well as future Afghan-US relations.

''We needed 40 committees and we created 40. But a special solution was found for a 'special problem','' the official said.

In June, vehicle licensing officials in Afghanistan said that new registration plates with the number 39 were stacking up because of the Afghan aversion to the number.

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