The Islamabad-based Conflict Monitoring Center, which monitors drone attacks and anti-state insurgencies in South Asia, notes in its latest report that the CIA has only carried out four attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas in September, killing 22 and injuring 9 others - a substantial reduction on the same month last year.
Most of those killed, it says, were unknown suspected militants, but they also included al-Qaeda's operational chief in Pakistan, Abu Hafs al-Shahri and Haleemullah, a deputy to the Mullah Nazir faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.
The CMC - which says it is independent, but does not reveal the source of its funding - says the number of attacks in the first month that General David Petraeus has been in charge of the CIA - he took up office on 6 September - was particularly low, although overall figures for 2011 are also lower than in previous years.
The figures show that in the first nine months of 2011 there were 66 drone attacks, killing around 515 people. The CMC argues that there is a punitive element to the drone campaign and that attacks are not solely motivated by the aim of killing militants: "United States uses this lethal weapon for its punitive approach towards Pakistan." It claims that a particularly brutal attack on 17 March this year, in which 40 tribesmen attending a tribal jirga were killed, was a revenge attack for the detention of CIA contractor Raymond Davis.
The CMC report also notes: "The CIA has carried out a drone attack after every high level meeting between Pakistani and American officials during the year 2011". Not sure if this argument can be verified, when there have been so many attacks, but clearly there is a perception in Pakistan that this is happening.
Interestingly, the report notes that following the reduction in the number of drone attacks over this summer, the protest movement in Pakistan has lost its momentum. "No significant public protest was observed during the month of September 2011. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf – a political party led by veteran cricketer Imran Khan- had started sit-ins (Dharna) against drone attacks in May and June but during previous two months, the party has not organized any protest in this regard. In Pakistan’s National Assembly, the issue of drone attacks was raised by parliamentarians a few months back however, after the reduction in number of drone attacks, the issue is no more of prime attention of the parliamentarians."