Countertransference in an anthropological study of violence in Pakistan

Nichola Khan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article revisits my anthropological fieldwork over ten years with men who became mercenaries in Karachi’s MQM party. In my previous interpretations of their stories I sought to develop a moral-political counter position from which to refute the psychopathological, defend their humanity and, as I was often urged in my fieldwork, ‘tell’ their pain to the world. Reflecting anew on one case, ‘Arshad’, I consider how tales of fantastic violence, even when they are racked with terror and torment, are perversely enthralling. I link this to ways dissociative patterns are fostered culturally, and by political leaders, creating simultaneous modes of attachment and detachment for people living amidst extreme violence. Arshad’s self-aggrandising stories were necessary for coping with and detaching from an increasingly fragmenting reality—until his fantasy became a punishing, perpetual present. Researching his story propelled me over time towards a radical pacifism and a growing discomfort at his belief in his actions as wholly justified. For Arshad, this means I have betrayed him. It also raises important ethical questions regarding the limits of sympathy for his plight. Last, in their phantasmagoric appeal, I wonder if such stories can become a site of resistance, a way to write against violence?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)408-411
Number of pages4
JournalClio’s Psyche
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2014


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