- Associated Press - Thursday, December 8, 2011

PESHAWAR, PAKISTANMohammed Hasib lost his older brother two years ago in a car bombing that destroyed their small shop for women’s accessories and killed more than 100 people.

He has since rebuilt and business is improving, thanks to a significant drop in militant violence in Pakistan this year.

Analysts attribute the decline to a combination of military operations against the Pakistani Taliban in the country’s rugged tribal region, U.S. drone attacks that have killed key militant commanders, and better law enforcement in Pakistan’s main cities.

Reported exploratory peace talks over the past six months between the Pakistani Taliban and government intermediaries also may have played a role.

There have been conflicting claims in recent weeks about whether the talks have occurred and whether militants have agreed to a cease-fire to encourage them.

The number of people killed in suicide attacks in Pakistan in the first 11 months of 2011 dropped almost 40 percent compared to the same period last year, according to data compiled by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies.

Deaths from all attacks by Islamist militants fell nearly 20 percent.

This trend contrasts with rising violence in Afghanistan, where a suicide bomber on Tuesday killed 56 people outside a Shiite Muslim shrine in Kabul where they were marking a major Islamic holy day.

A Pakistan-based group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami, reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack, although the validity of the claim could not be verified.

The most notable drop in Pakistan has been in mass-casualty attacks in large cities outside the northwest, such as Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik actually thanked the Pakistani Taliban on Tuesday for not staging attacks in the country during Ashoura, when Shiites commemorate the death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

Despite the decline, violence still takes a large human toll in the country in daily attacks, and no one is claiming victory.

Nearly 1,700 people were killed in “terrorist” or “insurgent” attacks through November, according to the institute, excluding those in Baluchistan that were mostly carried out by nationalists, not Islamist militants.

More than 670 people were killed in suicide attacks. The numbers killed in the same period last year were around 2,100 and 1,060, respectively.

“The situation has improved, but people are still scared,” said Mr. Hasib, 30, whose shop is located in the northwest city of Peshawar’s Mina bazaar. “It will take time for people to fully recover.”

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