Within 24 hours of India accepting Pakistan’s offer for talks in New York next week, New Delhi has reneged on its acceptance of Islamabad’s offer. India’s decision follows the alleged killing of its security personnel by Pakistan based entities and the release of postage stamps “glorifying a terrorist and terrorism” which India claims has exposed the “evil agenda of Pakistan” and the “true face of the new Prime Minister of Pakistan”. All those hoping for some — and I mean, some — thaw in the never-ending bitterness and acrimony between India and Pakistan would have breathed a sigh of relief. Prime Minister (PM) Khan offering the olive branch to India and India’s earlier acceptance of Pakistan’s offer heaved in relief from the never-ending chorus of allegations and counter allegations. But the relief — and the ensuing hope — was short lived. That the cancellation happened within 24 hours of the Indian government’s confirmation of the meeting is perplexing. But this sudden offer, acceptance and reneging — all within the short time span — made me curious about what could possibly be missing in the larger Indo-Pak bilateral equation, and took me down memory lane to my days at law school where we were taught the fundamentals of negotiation and conflict resolution as a blue print for approaching conflicts, both interpersonal and bilateral. India and Pakistan can take a page from the old playbook of conflict resolution. Conflict resolution mechanisms by no means guarantee a resolution of complicated and overarching disputes such as the ones that exist between these two countries. But they do offer insight to adversaries on how they ought to view and approach complex disputes. India’s statement is a classic example of how a badly worded and timed statement can add a wrinkle to an already complicated bilateral relationship. In an excellent write-up titled “Four Conflict Negotiation Strategies for Resolving Value-Based Disputes” published by the Harvard Program on Negotiation (HPON), negotiators are advised to follow four practical steps to tone down contentious negotiations so that talks can move forward in a constructive manner. The first recommendation is to consider interests and values separately. This requires separating the person from the problem and engaging issues individually. This also requires determining the worth or value that the counterparty attaches to its position. Understanding the value that an adversary attaches to its position allows a deep understanding of the dispute — the starting point for any bargaining. The deep mistrust between India and Pakistan has reached a point where each side is seen as the proverbial devil coming with dirty hands and quoting scripture to advance its nefarious designs The second recommendation — and this is important in the context of the Indian decision to cancel the meeting — is to engage in a relationship building dialogue. The key is “relationship building” and this does not necessarily mean accepting the other party’s position outright. Equally, this does not mean rejecting the adversary’s position or closing doors of dialogue. Rather, this requires allowing the adversary to state its policy position and offer arguments in support. Opening channels of communication with the adversary enables the parties to appreciate the policy fundamentals driving positions and bolster counter-arguments. HPON also recommends appealing to common or shared values to bridge the gap of misunderstanding. Adopted in the past by India and Pakistan as confidence building measures or CBMs, these measures allowed both countries to build “islands of agreements” (mini understandings built on carefully crafted common grounds) to sow the seeds for crafting further mutual mini-understandings. This never happened, but the approach did leave open the possibility of the two countries further engaging one another in future. HPON also advises adversaries to confront value differences directly because areas where the adversaries have fundamentally convergent views are areas of growth and value creation. Tapping the deep reservoir of differences through direct confrontation requires out of the box thinking and, above all, courage. Closing doors of discussion and dialogue with the adversary is therefore anathema to any hope for resolution of disputes. India and Pakistan also follow the deeply flawed narrative of terming one another’s sane suggestions (be they for dialogue or engagement) as being the case of “the devil quoting scripture”. The deep mistrust between the two countries has reached a point where each side is seen as the proverbial devil coming with dirty hands and quoting scripture to advance its nefarious designs or hidden agenda. Such approaches — whether these are driven by policy or political imperatives (such as looming elections that drive popular slogans) — should not become the state narrative dictating an automated response. India and Pakistan need to take a holistic view of their complex bilateral relationship and develop a deeper understanding of the value attached to the issues in dispute by the other, have the courage to open (and keep opened) doors of negotiation and, despite acrimony and setbacks, continue to appeal to shared values so as to construct mini-consensus on smaller issues before tackling simmering larger disputes. I will end this article with a beautiful quote by Abraham Lincoln who once said, “I don’t like that man. I am going to have to get to know him better”. The author is a practicing international lawyer and a graduate of Harvard Law School. E-mail:v firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, September 24th 2018.