The skies over Pakistan have remained conspicuously clear during the recent election season, according experts on drone strikes in that part of the world.
The last recorded U.S. drone strike in or near Pakistan occurred on April 17, open source data indicates, or roughly a month before the Pakistani election that reestablished Nawaz Sharif as prime minister for the third time.
Specifics of this notoriously reclusive drone program remain top secret within the U.S. military and intelligence communities, though experts on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and Pakistani politics say the U.S. has likely eased up on the joystick for what has become a popular local talking point.
"Every drone strike is a little bit of gasoline on a fire," says Karl Kaltenthaler, a professor at The University of Akron and expert on drone strikes in Pakistan.
"There was a lot of discussion during the election about Pakistani sovereignty, about standing up, particularly to the United States over the drone strikes in the FATA," he says of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in northwestern Pakistan along the Afghan border. This tribal region is home to much of the Pakistani Taliban, and is predominantly Pashtun.
One of the more vocal candidates in the recent election, former cricketer Imran Khan, is himself of Pashtun descent and used U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan as a favorite populist and anti-American talking point.
Khan said earlier in May he would "end the system of American slavery" in Pakistan.
"We were not trying to get directly involved in the election, which would be radioactive," said Kaltenhaler. "But drone strikes would just be fuel on the fire."
Drone strikes in this region are largely carried out by Air Force pilots using CIA information, though no public records exist of this activity. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Long War Journal document drone strikes through public information.
Both organizations agree the last strike likely occurred on April 17.
"It's not for want of targets. There are political considerations," says Bill Roggio, an editor at LWJ who culls drone information.
"[The strikes] are publicized, for certain," he says. "Political candidates would definitely use them."
It would give candidates, such as Khan or Sharif, "an issue to beat over the head of the PPP," he says of the Pakistan People's Party, the progressive party which came under fire for what opponents claim was selling out to the U.S. in exchange for violating the country's sovereignty. The U.S. has also withheld drone strikes in the past for political considerations, Roggio says. There was a UAV blackout following the Raymond Davis incident, in which a former U.S. soldier and military contractor reportedly gunned down two men in Lahore in 2011.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates drone strikes have accounted for as many as 900 civilian deaths and 200 deaths among children since 2004.
"Drones are kind of the best game in town for fighting al Qaeda, but they're absolutely fraught with real human questions," says Kaltenthaler. These include balancing collateral damage against high value targets the U.S. would have no other way of detaining, and the virtue of these kinds of targeted killings.
"It's unfortunately more common than we would like it to be that people who look like they're acting suspiciously are really not up to any nefarious activity at all," he says.