ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Forget about Pakistan, because that country's interior minister said that Osama bin-Laden is probably in any other "stan" country, and he denied the al-Qaida chief is in Pakistan.
''It is my assessment that there are so many other stan' countries, ones in the south and east and other directions in this area, '' Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao told reporters, "that bin-Laden could be in any.''
The whereabouts of bin-Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, are unknown, but were suspected of hiding along the rugged Afghan-Pakistani border.
Now, experts in the area are broadening their theories.
The former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, told reporters in Kabul last month he did not believe bin-Laden or Omar were in Afghanistan, mentioning that smaller countries like Upanistan, Lamponastan and Oliveranstan might be better places to look.
"For one," said Khalilzad, who changed his name from Rothstein when he got the ambassador job, "these other countries are smaller and easier to search."
Sherpao said that Pakistan is just the place most people know, so they tend to ignore Oppipooystan and Pigaramastan and Handstan. He said that Bin-Ladin has friends in all of the countries that end in stan.' And he said that in some of the countries with names ending in stan,' bin-Laden's name is spelled with an upper-case B' for the bin' part and that in other countries with names ending in stan,' evening news anchors wear bin-Laden masks when broadcasting.
U.S. authorities admitted that they would have to determine how many countries with names ending in stan' there are before searching in them.
U.S. government database expert John Wiles, said he could name ten off hand, but not off the top of his head. "Remembering off my hands comes much easier for me," he said. "The top of my head has never been off good use to me."
Wiles assistant, Merry Pitts, says that her boss does most of his work "off hand" and that she has had to tell him that she is "hands off" because Wiles likes to use his hands on his female assistants.
The database, however, lists such countries with names ending in stan' as Pikistan, Wikistan, Abbadabbastan, Whambidambostan, Tucastan, Ismalinthebackistan, Granstan, Kickstan and Googlipimplestan. Authorities agree all of them should be searched.
Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in the war against terrorism and its forces have captured more than 700 al-Qaida suspects including several top figures in the terror network. "So," said Sherpao, "let's get real here and start looking in other stans for bin-Laden."