The National Inertia Plan

*Originally published in The News.

Nearly a month back the attack on Bacha Khan University brought back torment of what is perhaps the most traumatic experience in Pakistan’s collective national memory: 16th December 2014.

The Charsadda attack has been followed by beefing up of security in educational institutions, including the conduction of security drills, trainings for guards and personnel, and even the temporary closure of schools. In assailing the pursuit of education by an environment and atmosphere of fear and militarization, the horror of the APS attack reverberates in educational institutions and students across the country.

This is a militarization that has familiarized students with the grim possibility of never returning home as they leave for schools each day; a militarization out of which schools, colleges and universities have emerged morphed into high-security fortresses; and this is a militarization that has forced revered purveyors of education like Tahira Kazi and the 33-year old chemistry professor Syed Hamid Hussein to build passage for the future of Pakistan not by illuminating the way for students but by extinguishing the very light which was to shine the path: their own lives. It is a dismaying reality that the trauma which accompanies an entire generation of children and youth today, upon which hover fear and threat of death and loss in spaces where only learning, education and hope should thrive, will be an enduring casualty of terrorism in Pakistan.

In wake of the Charsadda Attack, there also appeared to be a dispute between the educational institutions and the government on the issue of security provision. While a legitimate demand to a certain extent, the government’s pressure on the administrations to provide and take charge of all security arrangements once again attests to the government’s willingness to pass the buck, surrender and assign surrogates for what is chiefly the state’s key responsibility; the protection of the lives of its citizens.

In an article based on analysis of school attacks in Pakistan, Rana Muhammad Usman draws focus to alarming trends and figures; including the fact that in four decades South Asia has witnessed 1,436 attacks on education, out of which 60% occurred in Pakistan. Only nine days after the attack on Bacha Khan University four police personnel were shot dead on the Munir Mengal Road in Quetta by the TTP. There is little doubt that violent incidents have slid down the frequency scale since last year but the continued occurrence, even if sporadic, of such attacks and assaults calls attention to unfinished business for both the terrorists and the state. Writing for The New York Times, Mohammed Hanif nails the matter at hand:

“Security experts, a group likely to find a silver lining in hell, say that the Taliban are targeting schools because these are soft targets – and that this is proof the Taliban have been weakened and can no longer attack cantonments or airports. Apparently, we are supposed to take solace in the slaughter of our children because our cantonments and airports are safe.”

However, beyond the issue of schools and security, the Bacha Khan University attack has brought to fore a number of disconcerting realities that remain unchanged since 16th December despite grand proclamations of will and resolve to obliterate them.

The grand National Action Plan which was devised as a comprehensive programme for tackling extremism and terrorism appears to be in tatters today. Banned organizations and ‘assets’ still operate freely, and while the interior minister prevaricated and bemoaned a fictional lack of evidence needed to act against him, the brazen-faced and contemptible Abdul Aziz spat on the writ of the state by informing the nation of his ‘negotiations’ with the agencies regarding his case. Even in this announcement, he continued to spout and spew his hate, accusing a brigadier in ISI of ‘the other sect’ of ‘conspiring’ against him.

Recently, news of the Sindh government’s consideration of Friday sermons’ regulation has also surfaced. While the regulation of sermons is certainly a significant step in examination of the influence sermons wield and exercise, there still persists a pressing need to stem the seeds that require the regulation of sermons in the first place: ideologies of extremism, hate, strife and violence. It is ideology that beckons back to the necessity of madrassah reform, a contentious and difficult issue in a country where any attempt at reform and regulation of religious institutions or religion-inspired laws is seen or perhaps cleverly construed and concocted as an attack on Islam itself.

Madrassah reform is a daunting task but the consequences of not dismantling ideological and territorial sanctuaries that maintain an infrastructure of extremism are even more disquieting – for which every organ of the state has to be united and mobilized in orientation, policy and action, until which all gains against terrorism in Pakistan will be tenuous at best, as the targeting of Bacha Khan University has shown.

Most importantly, the Charsadda attack has accentuated the urgency of a thorough inquiry and investigation into the Peshawar attack, which the parents of the APS students have been tirelessly demanding despite numerous attempts to thwart and silence them. Why is it that the demands for an investigation are being spurned, who does an inquiry threaten, and why does it threaten them? Although it will provide no closure to the insurmountable grief of the bereaved, an investigation will provide some semblance of accountability, answers, and a degree of insight that may be used to prevent further lapses and failures which endanger countless lives.

It is therefore crucial that the narratives of success in the drive against extremism and terrorism, being continuously churned and fed by the government and military, are constantly and consistently questioned because no longer can the inaction, inertia and apathy endemic to the state and government, but inimical to Pakistan, be afforded.

– Hafsa Khawaja

The Night is Dark

*Originally published in The News. Unedited version below:

Five Hazaras were gunned down in Quetta on 7th June. Numbering 500, the bereaved families and members of the Hazara community later protested on the streets with coffins of the deceased. In vain.

Aftab in his youth

Aftab in his youth

Aftab Bahadar was hanged on 10th June. Sentenced in 1992 for a murder along with Ghulam Mustafa, the plumber for whom he worked, he had been painfully waiting on the death row since 22 years. However, both Ghulam and the eyewitness who testified against Aftab only recently repudiated the claim that Aftab was complicit in the crime. According to Guardian and human rights organization Reprieve, Aftab said that when he was arrested the police asked for a 50,000 rupee bribe and said they would let him go if he paid. He couldn’t.

What lies between these deaths is hollowness, a hollowness of promises and vows that continues to jar louder each day since 16th December 2014.

With a seriously flawed judicial system and reportedly the world’s largest number of inmates on death row, believed to be over 8000, the lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty in Pakistan was controversial from the start. Yet all reason was jettisoned in an attempt to subdue and satiate the seething fury and mourning after the Peshawar Attack. The decision was oblivious to logic in disregarding the fact that the very desire of terrorists resides in death and the anticipated ascension to heaven; and that an ideology as toxic, bloodthirsty and pervasive as that of extremism cannot be bound, let alone defeated, by the mere physical elimination of its members. Nonetheless, the restoration of the death penalty was made to appear as a seemingly bold and big step against terrorists; symbolic of the state’s newfound deadly and steely resolve against terrorism. However, the reinstatement of the death penalty was but a grand eyewash and façade used to deflect from taking real action on the fronts that demanded immense political will, honesty, courage and tenacity. A reality starkly reflected between the unabated killings in Quetta and the hanging of Aftab Bahadur at Kot Lakhpat.

The comprehensive National Action Plan that emerged in January as the government’s guide to countering terrorism and extremism seems to have been an act of plain political grandstanding since it remains far from any noticeable implementation.

A critical statement on the state of madrassah education by Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed was enough to evoke a spate of hate and attacks against him, prompting fears for his safety. Pervez Hoodbhoy succinctly spoke of the controversy’s implications in his Dawn article ‘The Pervaiz Rasheed Affair’“Not a single voice in government defended the information minister. By refusing to own the remarks of its own information minister the government has signalled its retreat on a critical front — madressah reform.”  Such are the hazards and hurdles associated with the problem of extremism in Pakistan that a mere statement can shackle the government from action. As for the minorities Shikarpur, Youhanabad and Quetta suffice to mention. They continue to be hounded while militant outfits such as LeJ and SSP continue to run amok with their lust for blood.

On the other hand, decisions taken in wake of the Peshawar attack such as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s permission to allow teachers weapons inside schools resonate with the coarse nature of political imagination in the country. The prevalence of such poor governance that determines this slipshod management of alarming issues and knee-jerk reactions to them has only recently taken the life of a 12-year old pupil in Swat who was accidentally shot dead by the teacher while he was cleaning his pistol.

Despite the monstrosity that bloodily usurped the lives of 141 children, the government’s reaction has been marked by the customary national cycle of temporary outrage, condemnation, protest, forget and repeat. The recent killings of the Hazara in Quetta and the execution of Aftab Bahadur serve to illustrate the lack of any decisive, solid or substantial government and state action against terrorists and extremists, and the superficiality of the steps taken, such as the restoration of the death penalty, in curbing the cancer.

Little has changed six months since the Peshawar Attack, most of all the captivity of Pakistan and its collective consciousness by political, ideological, social and moral paralysis.

At such a moment in time, one must listen to a dead man speaking from his grave; Aftab Bahadaur’s words from his last letter (translated and published in The Guardian a day before his execution):

“While the death penalty moratorium was ended on the pretext of killing terrorists, most of the people here in Kot Lakhpat are charged with regular crimes. Quite how killing them is going to stop the sectarian violence in this country, I cannot say. I hope I do not die on Wednesday, but I have no source of money…I have not given up hope, though the night is very dark.”

The night ended for Aftab as his last, but for Pakistan, indeed the night remains very dark.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

~ Tyranny of Everlasting Sorrow

On 16/12/14, to which it has been six months yet nothing has changed but the deepening of 141 wounds inflicted upon every single Pakistani till the end of time.

On the mother in a bloodied and tattered green and white.


Oh beloved mother,

Bloodied and bruised,     

From the tyranny of misfortune,

Your children wished to nurse you tomorrow, 

Yet what trampled you forever, prevailed yet again;

The tyranny of misfortune triumphed,

Into the tyranny of everlasting sorrow. 

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Let Us Count No More

*Originally published in The Nation.
Unedited version below:

Some tragedies are difficult to erase from national memories.  Some wounds are difficult to heal. What happened in Peshawar was a monstrosity beyond evil, a calamity beyond tragedy. The calculated, cold-blooded murder of helpless, defenseless, innocent children will always remain, neither a wound that heals, nor a stain that fades, but a scar right in Pakistan’s heart that shall only deepen with time. It will remain forever.

Women mourn their relative Mohammed Ali Khan, a student who was killed during an attack by Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School, at his house in Peshawar

In an air of seething anger, mourning and vengeance, the government decided to lift the moratorium on death penalty. As understandable as this is for the savages who have torn through Pakistan’s soul, it must be realized that the lifting of the moratorium is once again a cosmetic attempt to defeat terrorism.

Pakistan can no longer do without recognizing that the monster of terrorism has multiple heads and tackling it honestly.

For once, the state and military establishment must end the dubious, contradictory and damnable distinction between the “good” and “bad” Taliban, for the advancement of ‘Strategic Depth’ that has become the death of us. It is important to mention the late Eqbal Ahmad, whose prophetic warnings regarding Pakistan’s future vis-à-vis the policy in Afghanistan during and after the Afghan war were made little use of, penned in an article, titled ‘What after strategic depth?’ in Dawn on 23 August, 1998:

“The domestic costs of Pakistan’s friendly proximity to the Taliban are incalculable and potentially catastrophic The Taliban are the expression of a modern disease, symptoms of a social cancer which shall destroy Muslim societies if its growth is not arrested and the disease is not eliminated. It is prone to spreading, and the Taliban will be the most deadly communicators of this cancer if they remain so organically linked to Pakistan.”

The scourge of extremism and terrorism cannot be defeated if Pakistan’s military establishment pursues policies of duplicity; with a selective fight instead of an all-out war against all terrorists without distinction and second thought, since the alternative is clearly at the expense of Pakistan’s peace, stability and future.

As vital it is to battle the Taliban physically, it is even more crucial to battle them ideologically, culturally and socially.

Pakistan’s mosques must be regulated and rid of the hate speeches made against other religions, religious minorities, sects and the West, that pass for sermons. These have converted the country’s mosques into sanctuaries breeding hate, bigotry and intolerance with bloody repercussions.

Jibran Nasir: The quiet lawyer and activist who is taking on Pakistan’s Taliban (The Independent, photo taken by Mosharraf Zaidi)

The people must reclaim their mosques, just as the brave Jibran Nasir led people in Islamabad rallying for FIR against and the arrest of Abdul Aziz of the Lal Masjid for his audacious refusal to condemn the Peshawar massacre in clear words live on television. It is hoped that this spirit inflamed by rage and sorrow crystallizes into a sustained campaign and movement by the citizens to reclaim Pakistan; for any ‘maulana’ or ‘mufti’ whose tongue stutters to clearly condemn extremists and terrorist acts of atrocities must be taken to task by the people and state; and if the state does not take them to task, the people must take it to task too. Let it be clear today that a lack of condemnation is an act of complicity. Pakistan has paid enough for terrorist apologists in its midst.

The media must also stop the sensationalist and luxurious provision of airtime to such men in the guise of interviews and calls; offering them opportunities to shamelessly propagate their views and promote the cause of the extremists in turn. Pakistan cannot and must not tolerate any terrorist apologists from any sphere, be it religious, social or political since they are in abundance.

Furthermore, Pakistan cannot envision the eradication of extremism and terrorism unless the political patronage of militant organizations like the SSP, LeJ and ASWJ are explicitly ended. It is this country and nation’s misfortune, that not only does it have leaders who are spineless and irresolute in the face of a cancer that continues to consume Pakistan; but also have links; concede, pacify and pander to organizations that are proud ancillary warriors to the ideological evil.

Death penalties may satiate our desire for justice, but these cannot compensate for the alarming flaws plaguing Pakistan’s judicial system that is unable to prosecute, convict and punish terrorists. Mentioned in Chris Albritton’s Daily Beast article, the U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2013 states:

“Intimidation by terrorists against witnesses, police, victims, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges contributed both to the slow progress of cases in Antiterrorism Courts and a high acquittal rate.”

According to Dawn, since 2007, over 2,000 alleged terrorists have been freed by the Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATCs) and even re-joined terrorist outfits. Therefore, as long as Pakistan’s courts are not empowered and let murderers like Malik Ishaq walk free with the blood of hundreds of Shias on his hands; death penalties will only remain a superficial step taken in the stride for serving justice.

Moreover, the curriculum and textbooks taught in Pakistan must be reviewed and revised to replace the patchwork of intolerance, hate, bigotry, xenophobia and jingoism it has currently bred by one which fosters a pluralistic national mindset of tolerance, inter-faith, inter-sect, inter-ethnic harmony. The distortions and crass obfuscations in the textbooks may have served the state well but they have certainly not served the country and nation well.

Pakistan must also recognize that the disease of extremism and terrorism is home-grown. The hordes that attended Arshad Mehmood’s funeral after his hanging were our people, they were Pakistanis. Those who fund, abet and sympathise with these are Pakistanis. Arshad Mehmood and his ilk was Pakistani. The hundreds of children slaughtered in Peshawar were Pakistani, this is Pakistan’s war.

Lastly, as a people, we must rupture our resilience. Let us let it be known that we will not forget nor forgive; we will neither recover nor rest until we win this war; a war within us. We must no longer be quiet; we must let the pain of Peshawar never subside if Pakistan is ever to remain alive. Let us feel the loss that can never be undone. Let us walk on the blood-splattered shards of Peshawar, let us never forget what happened there; let us not wash this away from our hearts and minds by the flimsy cloth of resilience.  Let us know that our silence and resilience is now complicity.

Let us find it difficult to sleep every night knowing this soil is fresh with the splattered blood of its beautiful children. Let us count the 50,000 which 140 more have joined.  Every inch of this land is soaked with the blood of its own.

Let us be resilient no longer if we are to count no more.

~ Hafsa Khawaja


There seems to be a great deal of skepticism and cynicism among members of some older generations in Pakistan regarding vigils and shows of protests, especially by the youth. They question what difference does it make, what point is there to it to such a ‘superficial’’ western’ cultural import?

What happened in Peshawar is a monstrosity beyond evil, a calamity beyond tragedy. It has rattled us to the very core and shook our souls. Grasped by grief and suffocated by helplessness, it now seems difficult to breathe.

In times of unbearable grief mocked by helplessness; of screaming anger silenced in the wails of mourning – coming together is sometimes the only way to help restore some semblance of power to us, in a land and time where it is bloodily usurped through guns and bombs tearing through our bodies, lives, souls and spirits.

Coming together in the form of a vigil or protest is not just a gathering. It is much more.

It is an effort, no matter how inconsequential, to express solidarity and support; to be counted and to be heard; to mark the persistence of resilience. It is a clamour amid attempts to be silenced.

The candles we light are not just in remembrance of the lost, but also in sight and light of hope. Hope, letting go of which is too much of a risk for us to take since that is all we have.

Some tragedies are difficult to erase from national memories. The deliberate, cold-blooded murder of helpless, defenseless, innocent little children will always remain, neither a wound for that heals, nor a stain that fades, but a scar in Pakistan’s memory. It will remain forever.

Therefore, let us not imbue Pakistan with further negativity by criticizing acts and gestures that express our collective sorrow and grief, our support and solidarity, our resolve and resistance. To collect the smithereens of our sanity and sense, our strength, our hopes and humanity from the shards of grief and barbarity.

In the grasp of grief and the suffocation of helplessness, maybe this is the only catharsis we have.

That we are in this together. That in throbbing with pain, we still throb with life.

Rest in peace, flowers of Peshawar.


Every inch of this country is soaked with the blood of its own,

Every corner with fear and ordeal;

Peace left long,

Abandoned us with scorn;

From death and violence there is no respite,

Helpless screams our plight;

Bodies pile in heaps,

From this land of green, only red seeps;

Grief marches,

And suffering strides,

But bravery reigns,

And resilience still resides;

The sigh between mourning,

The breath between cries,

The time between two calamities;

Is the only peace, out of life, that we can now prise;

They say there is a world beyond,

They say there is a heaven,

And we believe, for we’ve seen hell;

For every inch of this country is soaked with the blood of its own,

Every corner with fear and ordeal.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Zarb-e-Azb and Pakistan’s Other Battles

*First published on Pakistan Today.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) released a much-anticipated statement on June 15th 2014 announcing the decision on the directions of the government to launch a comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists in North Waziristan; Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

The decision has been largely welcomed by both the segments of the nation which were divided over confrontation with the Taliban: those who, from the very beginning, questioned the logic of negotiation in the face of an expansionist and extremist force; and those who favoured negotiation only to be left disillusioned as the militants refused to cease their assaults on the country, the latest being the Karachi Airport Attack.

army-operationA state of war, as it is now, it is hoped that this would lead Pakistan’s political parties and the government to consider the gravity of the situation and demonstrate sheer seriousness by practicing maturity, sensibility and putting their squabbles aside. The complete opposite of which has been witnessed in Model Town, Lahore in the fight between PAT supporters and the Punjab Police; and Imran Khan’s incessant drive to push forward his rusty political agendas against the government by seemingly unending  jalsas.

The government and other parties must realize that now is not the time for political gimmickry, point-scoring and bickering. While the media should realize that responsible journalism, instead of sensationalism, is the need of the hour.

The government should leave no stone unturned for aiding the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), ensuring their easy transportation and suitable accommodation. It needs to have concrete plans for their rehabilitation, especially since the holy month of Ramzan has begun and the scorching heat is yet to subside. More importantly, the IDP crisis and the government’s sluggish response is being capitalized by several militant and extremist organisations who are stepping up to provide relief and aid to them, which could have potentially grave implications if the state continues limping. The participation of the ordinary people, the civil society and NGOs will also be vital to the efforts for the help and assistance of the IDPs, as has always been.

The Operation against the militants does not only involve our courageous jawans,but this fight demands that the entire nation stands together in this decisive hour.

The late Eqbal Ahmad, whose prophetic warnings (‘the chickens of Jihads’ once sponsored by imperialism and the state are likely to come home to roost’) regarding Pakistan’s future vis-à-vis the policy in Afghanistan during and after the Afghan war were made little use of, penned in an article of his titled ‘What after Strategic Depth?’ published in Dawn on 23rd August 1998:

The domestic costs of Pakistan’s friendly proximity to the Taliban are incalculable and potentially catastrophic. More importantly, the Taliban’s is the most retrograde political movement in the history of Islam. The warlords who proscribe music and sports in Afghanistan, inflict harsh punishments upon men for trimming their beards, flog taxi drivers for carrying women passengers, prevent sick women from being treated by male physicians, banish girls from schools and women from the work-place are not returning Afghanistan to its traditional Islamic way of life as the western media reports sanctimoniously. They are devoid of the ethics, aesthetics, humanism, and Sufi sensibilities of traditional Muslims. To call them “mediaeval” is to insult the age of Hafiz and Saadi, of Rabi’a Basri and Mansur al-Hallaj, of Amir Khusrau and Hazrat Nizamuddin. The Taliban are the expression of a modern disease, symptoms of a social cancer which shall destroy Muslim societies if its growth is not arrested and the disease is not eliminated. It is prone to spreading, and the Taliban will be the most deadly communicators of this cancer if they remain so organically linked to Pakistan’.

Pakistan will have to revise its policies if it wishes to effectively eradicate this cancer for once and for all today. Two contrasting policies, one which advocates a fight against the Taliban (“bad Taliban”) at home while going soft on the Taliban in foreign lands such as Afghanistan (“good Taliban”) in order to extract some sort of advantages is bound to ensure neither peace nor stability in Pakistan and come back to bite us, as it is today.

And while the nation wishes the armed forces success in the Operation, light must be also be shed on an equally important side of the battle: the TTP’s ideological prevalence in our social, religious and political sphere which is far more dangerous, in that it spawns and reproduces the fodder for bloodletting in the form of so-called jihadis which today Zarb-e-Azb is designed to defeat, and even more difficult to destruct.

The hate sermons that often blast from many mosques’ speakers against minorities and certain sects; the dangerous indoctrination that occurs in the madrassah; the open distribution of leaflets, pamphlets and issuance of fatwas that incite murder and hate; the consonance between the mindset of many ordinary Pakistanis and the Taliban regarding minorities, the West, democracy and modernity; a pregnant Farzana Bibi’s stoning in broad daylight; the existence of Taliban apologists and sympathizers in our political arena and their ideological and political patronage of the ancillary warriors of Al-Qaeda such as the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba; a certain High Court Judge planting a proud kiss on Mumtaz Qadri’s face during his trial for the murder of the late Salman Taseer – are all stark testaments to the ideological pervasiveness of the Taliban in Pakistan today.

Humayun Gauher in his article ‘The Enemy Within’ published recently in Pakistan Today says:

‘Finally, the army is launching a mini operation, but only in North Waziristan and perhaps the rest of the tribal areas. Big deal. The terrorists have reached every nook, cranny and neighbourhood of the country, even the houses of the rich and powerful. The operation has to be countrywide if we are to be rid of terrorism once and for all. ‘

Chris Cork also makes a striking point in his op-ed in Express Tribune titled ‘The Jihadi Spring’:

‘Subsequent air strikes are said to have killed many ‘foreign fighters — and that may well be true but it is not the foreign fighters that are the real problem.

That lies far from North Waziristan and is in the seminaries and madrassahs that give support and succour to the men who fight in the mountains. The anonymous compounds that are the rear-echelon for extremist groups. They provide rest and recreation, logistical support, are planning hubs and quite probably arms caches as well. All hiding in plain sight, all well enough known to ‘the authorities’ — and all apparently sleeping easy in their beds today. Which — if this huge operation in the mountains of the North were really about countering terrorism in Pakistan — they should not be.

Terrorism needs to be fought holistically, it is never going to be ‘defeated’ militarily (ask the Afghan Taliban about that one) and as long as the arteries of money and doctrine and patronage flow freely — as they are today — it will always persist.

Today Pakistan faces not a single but multiple threats of militancy, terrorism, extremism, sectarianism and violence, as identified by the government’s National Security Policy of 2014-18, all of which are heads of a single monster; only one of which the state as decided to take on now, to defeat which each would have to be destroyed. And for Pakistan to rid itself of this plague, it is an essential imperative to win both battles against the militant extremists: the one on the ground and the one in the state and society, the ideological front.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

~ Every Inch of This Land is Soaked with the Blood of its People

*Don’t usually prefer penning such despondency but this was written right after the Karachi Airport Attack; with a seared heart:

Every inch of this country is soaked with the blood of its people,
Every corner with fear and ordeal;

Peace left long,
Abandoned us with scorn;

From death and violence there is no respite, pakistan-unrest-karachi-airport-1
Helpless screams our plight;

Bodies pile in heaps,
From this land of green, only red seeps;

Grief marches,
And suffering strides,
But bravery reigns,
And resilience still resides;

The sigh between mourning,
The breath between cries,
The time between two calamities;
Is the only peace, out of life, that we can now prise;

They say there is a world beyond,
They say there is a heaven,
And we believe, for we’ve seen our heaven thrown to hell;

For every inch of this country is soaked with the blood of its people,
Every corner with fear and ordeal.

~ Hafsa Khawaja