In the annals of British colonial history one can find an unpromising precedent for the massive manhunt for Osama bin Laden that is now underway along the rugged border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The homelands of Pakistan's proud Pashtun tribesmen were also the scene of a 24-year hunt for another Islamic firebrand, the Fakir of Ippi -- who died in his bed, a free man, in 1960.
The fruitless search for the Fakir is recalled with unease by Western defense attaches now advising governments on how to catch the world's most wanted man in Pakistan's tribal borderlands.
The Fakir of Ippi was a Pashtun tribal leader, who led rebellions against British troops from a cave on the border of Afghanistan in what is now Pakistan's mountainous Waziristan district.
Ippi's stomping ground was the most remote and conservative of Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous tribal districts on the Afghan border, and the stage for the Pakistani army's largely unsuccessful bid since March to capture 500 al-Qaeda, Taliban and tribal fighters.
The Fakir orchestrated ambushes and sabotage missions against the British, then against the Pakistani troops after the British granted independence in 1947. The Fakir was considered the region's most notorious figure.
Countless raids by both forces starting in 1936, as well as offers of bounties, failed to capture him.
"The ubiquitous and talented Fakir managed to elude the British despite bombing raids directed against his various hideouts and substantial rewards offered for his delivery, dead or alive," writes James Spain in his book The Pathan Borderland."
The British colonial army's protracted hunt for Ippi, born Mirza Ali Khan into the Torikhel sub-tribe, began almost 70 years ago on the Waziristan's sun-baked ridges. His first clash with the British came in 1936 in a dispute over a Hindu bride's conversion to Islam.
Ippi went on to raise lashkars [armed tribal forces] who ambushed British army convoys. In a raid in 1938 an entire detachment of British Indian Scouts was wiped out.
After two years of ambushing, looting and evading British forces, Ippi retired to "caves in a cliff ... almost astride the Afghan border," according to Spain. There he gathered bands of followers and fought off attempts to kill him from both the ground and the air.
"Air attacks on Gorwekht accomplished little, and Ippi lived out his life at his border headquarters," Spain wrote.
Retired air commodore Sajjad Haider flew air raids against Ippi and his men in 1954. "It was like the wild west," Haider said.
"We were called in to rescue ground troops. Flying overhead we saw hundreds of tribal fighters, in groups of 10 and 15, hiding behind big boulders.
"They knew the terrain, they moved very quickly and understood the limitations of our aircraft. They used to hide at the bottom of steep hills so pilots would have no space to pull up after attacks."
Like today's forces hunting the al-Qaeda leader, he too blamed the failure to capture Ippi on the inhospitable terrain, a patchwork of cave-pocked mountain ridges.
"It's like Osama bin Laden today. All these American, British and Afghan forces are trying to capture him, but it's the same story," Haider said.
"The border is treacherous, it's [over 2,000km] long, very porous, they can go back and forth with their supporters and they have the sympathies of the local population.