Last week in Islamabad, a diplomat friend from one of the European donor countries mentioned to me that her country was now considering major changes in its development aid policies, not to Pakistan in particular but in all countries. Good and well, I thought, since that sounds promising because the impact of aid was never impressive. But when she explained further what the justification was, I was less optimistic. She said the donors want 'more back for their money. They want to sell more of own goods and services to the recipient countries, and they probably also want to import more cheap goods, especially raw materials, from the Third World countries. I was disappointed because I thought the donors would want better results from their development aid, notably, better and more sustainable development for the poor men and women in the rural and urban areas in the worlds poorest countries. I thought that should be the aim and the impact of all development aid projects and programmes, and in addition, I also thought that the aid activities should lead to more and fairer international trade, with neighbouring countries as well as the donor countries and other countries in the West. My home country Norway is one of the worlds leading donor countries, but it is not good in developing trade links with the Third World, not even its main partner countries. Development aid is supposed to be a help to the poor countries, mostly former colonies and protectorates, so that they can catch up and 'graduate, i.e. go on without development aid, and eventually assist other countries, and indeed the underprivileged in their own countries. Why do some countries need help? Mostly because they were underdeveloped by the West during the colonial era, continued by unfair trade policies and international structures until this very day. Sadly, the structures are harnessed, in most fields, by the current policies of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the international finance institutions, including IMF, which has been in the news this week, along with the International Development Forum. The intention behind the development aid, which was established after the Second World War, was to cushion past mistakes and help the young states on their way. At least that was what we were told. To some extent, development aid is a form of indulgence, to use a theological term; it is paying back for the sins of our forefathers and show solidarity with the needy. For example, the UK as a colonial power in Kenya denied the indigenous people the right to vote, and it also denied them education, modern health facilities and other services during its rule of the country until 1964. In the years and decades after independence, it was seen as important to tie the countries closer to the West, through education, trade and otherwise. Development aid was seen as good for the former colonial power and other Western countries, and it was seen as good for the developing countries. To give development aid was also seen as a duty. The West should help the young countries on the way to prosperity, give advice and technical assistance, help develop education and give access to their universities and colleges in the West, provided financial and commodity support, and so on. And for a long time, I believe it worked quite well. But not as well as overoptimistic donors had thought, and also not as well as inexperienced leaders in the young states had wished for. It was inevitable that corruption and mismanagement began to flourish in countries with inexperienced political leaders and civil servants, weak but growing institutions, poor control systems, and so on. Sometimes, development aid contributed to corruption directly and indirectly through increased 'free money flows, often outside the governments decision making systems. For several decades, we (aid workers and diplomats) did not want to admit it was a serious problem. But in recent decades we have focused on it and we have tried to help with institutional development project, anti-corruption support, increased accountability efforts, and other things. Alas, it was too little and too late, and often done by nave foreigners without anywhere close to a real understanding of the local power structures and traditions, and for that matter, any societys political and administrative development paths. In other words, little true help has been offered, notwithstanding, of course, that many sensible reports have been written and seminars held. But those who gained were mostly the technical experts and consultants themselves - who have come and gone, with thicker wallets. The number of poor people has increased in most developing countries, but as a percentage it has gone down. Provision of education and health services has increased. Gender parity is better than before. Sadly, Pakistan is lagging behind most developing countries and its achievements are not as good as those, for example, Kenya has had in fields like education. I think donor policies and direct develop aid have played a positive role for these achievements, at least in the last two decades, notably after the end of the disastrous 'structural adjustment policies under the World Banks leadership. Now, even that institution seems to play a more positive role. Let this account of the history of development aid suffice for now. What should the future be? Should it be aid or trade, or both? Should the donor countries not only be the winners in trade, but also in trade related to aid, as I mentioned my friend was saying in the introduction to this article? There is definitely no justification for the donors to dump their recipients of development aid, and get out of it through excuses. True, the results of aid are not impressive. But dont blame that only on the recipients, and not even primarily on the recipients. The donors are mainly responsible, especially the politicians and the leaders of the aid organisations and the UN offices. My solution is that the recipient countries own institutions and organisations must be allowed to sit in the drivers seats. Get three-quarters of the UN and aid staff out of Pakistan That would be a good start. Let them provide the funds, some advice and control, but dont let them do the job that they cant do, and in any case, they send most of it over to local NGOs, etc. Let the local government structures work the way they are supposed to work. In principle, if funds come from tax or from aid, there isnt much difference as long as results are achieved. A telling example about emergency food aid can illustrate my point. This was presented at a World Conference on Humanitarian Studies at Tufts University, USA, earlier this week: It is evident that most of the emergency food aid should and must be made locally, not imported, benefiting the Western companies and hindering local development. Nutrition expert Steve Collins explained that it is not only a waste of money for aid agencies to import ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTF) manufactured in Europe or the USA, but also a lost opportunity to develop an added-value for local manufacturing capacity. Collins pointed out that developing countries such as Botswana and India have developed their own RUTF, but many aid agencies, including the UN, prefer to buy branded RUTF manufactured abroad such as Plumpy'nut - a lipid paste made from peanuts and milk powder and fortified with vitamins and minerals proven to be effective in treating severe acute malnutrition. After all, most people have always had to treat severe malnutrition themselves through community-based solutions. Urban Jonsson, a Swedish national and former UNICEF head of nutrition, argued strongly for radical, local solutions - as he did when we both worked in Kenya 25 years ago. Let this just be one example for consideration in a country like Pakistan, where we have had recent emergencies following earthquakes, floods, refugee and IDP situations - and emergencies are likely to reoccur from time to time. We should, therefore, be prepared to implement local solutions in emergencies and in ordinary developments situations. Development aid shall be a help. I shall supplement local efforts. Aid 'kings and the donor countries business owners must no longer be allowed to push aside the local drivers and sit in their seats anymore. That time is over. Local drivers are a prerequisite for development. And Pakistan has enough good drivers, people who can run development aid projects and the countrys ordinary civil service, with NGOs and other partners. n The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist based in Islamabad.