The geography of Pakistan is profoundly a mixture of landscapes varying from mostly plains to deserts, forests, hills, and plateaus ranging from the coastal areas of the Arabian Sea in the south to the mountains of the Karakoram range in the north. Pakistan geologically overlaps both with the Indian and the Eurasian tectonic plates where its Sindh and Punjab province lie on the north-western corner of the Indian plate while Balochistan and most of the North-West Frontier Province lies within the Eurasian plate which mainly comprises the Iranian plateau, some parts of the Middle East and Central Asia. The Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir lie mainly in Central Asia along the edge of the Indian plate and hence are prone to severe earthquakes where the two tectonic plates collide.
Pakistan is bordered by Afghanistan to the north-west and Iran to the west while the People's Republic of China borders the country in the north and India to the east. The nation is geopolitically placed within some of the most controversial regional boundaries which share disputes and have many-a-times escalated military tensions between the nations, e.g., that of Kashmir with India and the Durand Line with Afghanistan. Its western borders include the Khyber Pass and Bolan Pass that have served as traditional invasion routes between Central Eurasia and South Asia.
Pakistan officially borders with Afghanistan at the Durand Line, , which runs from the Hindu Kush and the Pamir Mountains. Its proposal was drafted by and named after the former secretary of British India Sir Henry Mortimer Durand and was acceded in 1893 by Amir Abdur Rehman, ruler of Afghanistan. When Pakistan became independent in 1947 however, the legitimacy of the demarcation was questioned and disputed upon by Afghans and the Pakhtun or Pashtun tribes. Afghanistan claimed the border was imposed upon their weak nation by stronger influences and favoured the establishment of another separatist state to be called Pashtunistan. The Durand Line remained disputed for years until 1994 that it was finally accepted. A narrow strip of Afghan-occupied Gorno-Badakhshan territory called the Wakhan Corridor extends between Pakistan and Tajikistan.
From the eastern tip of the Wakhan Corridor starts the Sino-Pak border between the People's Republic of China and Pakistan spanning about . It carries on south-eastward and ends near the Karakoram Pass. This line was determined from 1961 to 1965 in a series of agreements between China and Pakistan and finally upon 1963-03-03 both the governments, of Islamabad and Beijing, formally agreed. It is understood that if the dispute over Kashmir is resolved, the border would need to be discussed upon again.
The boundary with Iran, , was first delimited by a British commission in the same year as the Durand Line was demarcated, separating Iran from what was then British India's Baluchistan province. Modern Iran has a province named Sistan va Baluchistan that borders Pakistan and has Baluchis in an ethnic majority. In 1957 Pakistan signed a frontier agreement with Iran in Rawalpindi according to which the border was officially declared and the two countries haven't had this border as a subject of serious dispute at all. In the northeastern tip of the country, Pakistan politically and militarily controls about 84,159 square kilometers of the former princely state of Kashmir and Jammu, that is geographically and culturally Islamic in nature. This area consists of Azad Kashmir, a territorial strip, physically, historically, and geographically part of Pakistan, but not amalgamated constitutionally because of its anomalous sensitive status. It is an highly contested region territorially disputed area between Islamabad and New Delhi, along with the Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir as a whole, only to be divided by a ceasefire. Either of the Kashmirs does not constitutionally form a part of Pakistani or Indian annexed regions of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh Divisions (11,639 square kilometers) and most of the Federally Administered Northern Areas (F.A.N.A) (72,520 square kilometers), which includes Gilgit and Baltistan district. It is regarded as one of the most visually stunning regions of the Islamic republic, ‘Northern Pakistan’, also popularly known as the Eighth Wonderer of the World. The Northern Areas has five of the world's seventeen highest peaks along with highest range of mountains the Karakoram and Himalayas. It also has such extensive glaciers that it has sometimes been called the "Third Pole." The international border-line has been a matter of pivotal dispute between Pakistan and India ever since 1947, and the Siachen Glacier in northern Kashmir has been an important arena for fighting between the two sides since 1984, although far more soldiers have died of exposure to the cold than from any skirmishes in the conflict between their National Armies facing each other.
The Pakistan-India ceasefire line runs from the Karakoram Pass west-southwest to a point about 130 kilometers northeast of Lahore. This line, about 770 kilometers long, was arranged with United Nations (UNO) assistance at the end of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947-48. The ceasefire line came into effect on January 1, 1949, after eighteen months of fighting between Indian forces and Afridi tribals which Pakistan had send to occupy Kashmir and was last adjusted and agreed upon by the two countries according to the Simla Agreement of July 2, 1972 between Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Since then, it has been generally known as the Line of Control or the (LoC).
The Pakistan-India boundary continues irregularly southward for about 1,280 kilometers, following the line of the 1947 Radcliffe Award, named for Sir Cyril Radcliffe, the head of the British boundary commission on the partition of the Punjabs of Pakistan and Indian-annexed Khalistan in Pre-Pakistani territories and in united Bengal of Bharat (India) into Pakistan’s Eastern wing of Mashriq-e-Bengal on 13th August 1947. Although this boundary with India referring only to present-day Pakistan and not aimed at formerly East Pakistan borders except only all three governments claiming the status of the district of Firozpur and Pathankot between Pakistan and India. It remains another unresolved issue although it is not formally disputed; passions still run very high indeed on both sides of the international border. Many had expected the original boundary line to run farther to the west, thereby ceding the Lahore region to India, possibly granting them all of Gujranwala Division: Sialkot, Narowal, Gujrat, districts and Sheikhupura, Okara, Kasur districts of Lahore Division; and others had expected the line to run much farther east, possibly granting them control of Delhi, the imperial capital of the Mughal Empire including an east Punjab state for Sikhs of their own to govern. The southern borders are far less contentious than those in northern Pakistan (Kashmir). The Thar Desert in the province of Sindh is separated in the south from the salt flats of the Rann of Kachchh (Kutch) by a boundary that was first delineated in 1923-24. After partition and dissolution of Empire, Independent and free Pakistan contested the southern boundary of Sindh, and a succession of border incidents resulted. They were less dangerous and less widespread, however, than the conflict that erupted in Kashmir in the Indo-Pakistani War of August 1965 started with this decisive core of issues. These southern hostilities were ended by British mediation during Harold Wilson’s era, and both sides accepted the award of the Indo-Pakistan Western Boundary Case Tribunal designated by the UN secretary general himself. The tribunal made its award on February 19, 1968; delimiting a line of 403 kilometers that was later demarcated by joint survey teams, Of its original claim of some 9,100 square kilometers, Pakistan was awarded only about 780 square kilometers. Beyond the western terminus of the tribunal's award, the final stretch of Pakistan's border with India is about 80 kilometers long, running west and southwest to an inlet of the Arabian Sea.
Pakistan is divided into three major geographic areas: the northern highlands; the Indus River plain, with two major subdivisions corresponding roughly to the provinces of Punjab and Sindh; and the Balochistan Plateau. Some geographers designate additional major regions. For example, the mountain ranges along the western border with Afghanistan are sometimes described separately from the Balochistan Plateau, and on the eastern border with India, south of the Sutlej River, the Thar Desert may be considered separately from the Indus Plain. Nevertheless, the country may conveniently be visualized in general terms as divided in three by an imaginary line drawn eastward from the Khyber Pass and another drawn southwest from Islamabad down the middle of the country. Roughly, then, the northern highlands are north of the imaginary east-west line; the Balochistan Plateau is to the west of the imaginary southwest line; and the Indus Plain lies to the east of that line.
South of the northern highlands and west of the Indus River plain are the Safed Koh Range along the Afghanistan border and the Sulaiman Range and Kirthar Range, which define the western extent of the province of Sindh and reach almost to the southern coast. The lower reaches are far more arid than those in the north, and they branch into ranges that run generally to the southwest across the province Balochistan. North-south valleys in Balochistan and Sindh have restricted the migration of peoples along the Makran Coast on the Arabian Sea east toward the plains.
Several large passes cut the ranges along the border with Afghanistan. Among them are the Khojak Pass, about eighty kilometres northwest of Quetta in Balochistan; the Khyber Pass, forty kilometres west of Peshawar and leading to Kabul; and the Broghol Pass in the far north, providing access to the Wakhan Corridor.
Less than a one-fifth of Pakistan's land area has the potential for intensive agricultural use. Nearly all of the arable land is actively cultivated, but outputs are low by world standards. Cultivation is sparse in the northern mountains, the southern deserts, and the western plateaus, but the Indus River basin in Punjab and northern Sindh has fertile soil that enables Pakistan to feed its population under usual climatic conditions.
The name Indus comes from the Sanskrit word sindhu, meaning ocean, from which also come the words Sindh, Hindu, and India. The Indus, one of the great rivers of the world, rises in southwestern Tibet only about 160 kilometres west of the source of the Sutlej River, which joins the Indus in Punjab, and the Brahmaputra, which runs eastward before turning southwest and flowing through Bangladesh. The catchment area of the Indus is estimated at almost 1 million square kilometres, and all of Pakistan's major rivers--the Kabul, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, and Sutlej--flow into it. The Indus River basin is a large, fertile alluvial plain formed by silt from the Indus. This area has been inhabited by agricultural civilizations for at least 5,000 years.
The upper Indus Basin includes Punjab; the lower Indus Basin begins at the Panjnad River (the confluence of the eastern tributaries of the Indus) and extends south to the coast. In Punjab (meaning the "land of five waters") are the Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, and Sutlej rivers. The Sutlej, however, is mostly on the Indian side of the border. In the southern part of the province of Punjab, the British attempted to harness the irrigation power of the water over 100 years ago when they established what came to be known as the Canal Colonies. The irrigation project, which facilitated the emergence of intensive cultivation despite arid conditions, resulted in important social and political transformations.
Pakistan has two major river dams: the Tarbela Dam on the Indus, near the early Buddhist site at Taxila, and the Mangla Dam on the Jhelum, where Punjab borders Azad Kashmir built as part of the Indus Basin Project. The Warsak Dam on the Kabul River near Peshawar is smaller. These dams, along with a series of headworks and barrages built by the British and expanded since independence, are of vital importance to the national economy and played an important role in calming the raging floodwaters of 1992, which devastated large areas in the northern highlands and the Punjab plains.
Balochistan is located at the eastern edge of the Iranian plateau and in the border region between Southwest, Central, and South Asia. It is geographically the largest of the four provinces at 347,190 km² or (134,051 square miles) of Pakistani territory; and composes 48% of the total land area of Pakistan. The population density is very low due to the mountainous terrain and scarcity of water. The southern region is known as Makran. The central region is known as Kalat.
The Sulaiman Mountains dominate the northeast corner and the Bolan Pass is a natural route into Afghanistan towards Kandahar. Much of the province south of the Quetta region is sparse desert terrain with pockets of inhabitable towns mostly near rivers and streams.
This area is subject to frequent seismic disturbances because the tectonic plate under the Indian plate hits the plate under Eurasia as it continues to move northward and to push the Himalayas ever higher. The region surrounding Quetta is highly prone to earthquakes. A severe quake in 1931 was followed by one of more destructive force in 1935. The small city of Quetta was almost completely destroyed, and the adjacent military cantonment was heavily damaged. At least 20,000 people were killed. Tremors continue in the vicinity of Quetta; the most recent major quake occurred in January 1991. Far fewer people were killed in the 1991 quake than died in 1935, although entire villages in the North-West Frontier Province were destroyed. A major earthquake centred in the North-West Frontier Province's Kohistan District in 1965 also caused heavy damage.
Pakistan lies in the temperate zone. The climate is mostly semi-arid, but arid in the south, characterized by hot summers and cool or cold winters, and wide variations between extremes of temperature at given locations. There is little rainfall. These generalizations should not, however, obscure the distinct differences existing among particular locations. For example, the coastal area along the Arabian Sea is usually warm, whereas the frozen snow-covered ridges of the Karakoram Range and of other mountains of the far north are so cold year round that they are only accessible by world-class climbers for a few weeks in May and June of each year.
Pakistan has four seasons: a cool, dry winter from December through February; a hot, dry spring from March through May; the summer rainy season, or southwest monsoon period, from June through September; and the retreating monsoon period of October and November. The onset and duration of these seasons vary somewhat according to location.
The climate in the capital city of Islamabad varies from an average daily low of 2°C in January to an average daily high of 40°C in June. Half of the annual rainfall occurs in July and August, averaging about 255 millimetres in each of those two months. The remainder of the year has significantly less rain, amounting to about fifty millimetres per month. Hailstorms are common in the spring.
Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, which is also the country's industrial center, is more humid than Islamabad but gets less rain. Only July and August average more than twenty-five millimetres of rain in the Karachi area; the remaining months are exceedingly dry. The temperature is also more uniform in Karachi than in Islamabad, ranging from an average daily low of 13°C during winter evenings to an average daily high of 34°C on summer days. Although the summer temperatures do not get as high as those in Punjab, the high humidity causes the residents a great deal of discomfort.
Most areas in Punjab experience fairly cool winters, often accompanied by rain. Woolen shawls are worn by women and men for warmth because few homes are heated. By mid-February the temperature begins to rise; springtime weather continues until mid-April, when the summer heat sets in. The onset of the southwest monsoon is anticipated to reach Punjab by May, but since the early 1970s the weather pattern has been irregular. The spring monsoon has either skipped over the area or has caused it to rain so hard that floods have resulted. June and July are oppressively hot. Although official estimates rarely place the temperature above 46°C, newspaper sources claim that it reaches 51°C and regularly carry reports about people who have succumbed to the heat. Heat records were broken in Multan in June 1993, when the mercury was reported to have risen to 54°C. In August the oppressive heat is punctuated by the rainy season, referred to as barsat, which brings relief in its wake. The hardest part of the summer is then over, but cooler weather does not come until late October.
The central government's Perspective Plan (1988-2003) and previous five-year plans do not mention sustainable development strategies. Further, there have been no overarching policies focused on sustainable development and conservation. The state has focused on achieving self sufficiency in food production, meeting energy demands, and containing the high rate of population growth, not on curtailing pollution or other environmental hazards.
In 1992 Pakistan's National Conservation Strategy Report attempted to redress the previous inattention to the nation's mounting environmental problem. Drawing on the expertise of more than 3,000 people from a wide array of political affiliations, the government produced a document outlining the current state of environmental health, its sustainable goals, and viable program options for the future.
Of special concern to environmentalists is the diminishing forest cover in watershed regions of the northern highlands, which has only recently come under close scrutiny. Forest areas have been thoughtlessly denuded. Deforestation, which occurred at an annual rate of 0.4 percent in 1989-90, has contributed directly to the severity of the flooding problem faced by the nation in the early 1990s.
As industry has expanded, factories have emitted more and more toxic effluents into the air and water. The number of textile and food processing mills in rural Punjab has grown greatly since the mid-1970s, resulting in pollution of its rivers and irrigation canals. Groundwater quality throughout the country has also suffered from rapidly increasing use of pesticides and fertilizers aimed at promoting more intensive cropping and facilitating self-sufficiency in food production.
The National Conservation Strategy Report has documented how solid and liquid excreta are the major source of water pollution in the country and the cause of widespread waterborne diseases. Because only just over half of urban residents have access to sanitation, the remaining urban excreta are deposited on roadsides, into waterways, or incorporated into solid waste. Additionally, only three major sewage treatment plants exist in the country; two of them operate intermittently. Much of the untreated sewage goes into irrigation systems, where the wastewater is reused, and into streams and rivers, which become sewage carriers at low-flow periods. Consequently, the vegetables grown from such wastewater have serious bacteriological contamination. Gastroenteritis, widely considered in medical circles to be the leading cause of death in Pakistan, is transmitted through waterborne pollutants.
Low-lying land is generally used for solid waste disposal, without the benefit of sanitary landfill methods. The National Conservation Strategy has raised concerns about industrial toxic wastes also being dumped in municipal disposal areas without any record of their location, quantity, or toxic composition. Another important issue is the contamination of shallow groundwater near urban industries that discharge wastes directly into the ground.
Water in Karachi is so contaminated that almost all residents boil it before consuming it. Because sewerage and water lines have been laid side by side in most parts of the city, leakage is the main cause of contamination. High levels of lead also have been found in water in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Air pollution has also become a major problem in most cities. There are no controls on vehicular emissions, which account for 90 percent of pollutants. The National Conservation Strategy Report claims that the average Pakistani vehicle emits twenty-five times as much carbon monoxide, twenty times as many hydrocarbons, and more than three and one-half times as much nitrous oxide in grams per kilometer as the average vehicle in the United States.
Another major source of pollution, not mentioned in the National Conservation Strategy Report, is noise. The hyper-urbanization experienced by Pakistan since the 1960s has resulted in loose controls for heavy equipment operation in densely populated areas, as well as in crowded streets filled with buses, trucks, automobiles, and motorcycles, which often honk at each other and at the horse-drawn tongas (used for transporting people) and the horse-drawn rehras (used for transporting goods).
Natural hazards: frequent earthquakes, occasionally severe especially in north and west; flooding along the Indus after heavy rains (July and August)
Environment - current issues: water pollution from raw sewage, industrial wastes, and agricultural runoff; limited natural fresh water resources; a majority of the population does not have access to potable water; deforestation; soil erosion; desertification
The National Conservation Strategy Report recommends fourteen program areas for priority implementation: maintaining soils in croplands, increasing efficiency of irrigation, protecting watersheds, supporting forestry and plantations, restoring rangelands and improving livestock, protecting water bodies and sustaining fisheries, conserving biodiversity, increasing energy efficiency, developing and deploying renewable resources, preventing or decreasing pollution, managing urban wastes, supporting institutions to manage common resources, integrating population and environmental programs, and preserving the cultural heritage. It identifies sixty-eight specific programs in these areas, each with a long-term goal and expected outputs and physical investments required within ten years. Special attention has been paid to the potential roles of environmental NGOs, women's organizations, and international NGOs in working with the government in its conservation efforts. Recommendations from the National Conservation Strategy Report are incorporated in the Eighth Five-Year Plan (1993-98).
In a recent study conducted by Global CLEAN campaign, it was found that the average temperature in Pakistan had risen by .2 degrees in only 2 years, This is a dramatic change and puts emphisys on Climate Change Campaigns.
Irrigated land: 171,100 km² (1993 est.)
|Treaties and Agreements|
|Specific Regions and Seas||Law of the Sea, Ship Pollution (MARPOL 73/78)|
|Atmosphere and Climate||Climate Change, Ozone Layer Protection, Nuclear Test Ban|
|Biodiversity, Environment, and Forests||Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Wetlands, Marine Life Conservation|
|Rivers||Indus Waters Treaty|