Pakistan occupies about 887,700 sq km, a their the size of India and almost four times as big as the UK. Of this,83,800 sq km (about 9%) is the northern Areas plus Azad Jammu & Kashmir, the Pakistan-administered part of the old state of Jammu & Kashmir according to the terms of the 1949 UN cease-fire with India.
Pakistan’s neighbors are Iran on the south-west, Afghanistan west and north, China north-east, India all down the side and the Arabian Sea on the south. The northern border is with Afghanistan’s so-called Wakhan Corridor, a strip of land in place no more than 15km wide, beyond which is the former soviet republic of Tajikistan. It’s over 1800 km from Gawadar Bay in south-west Baluchistan to the Khunjerab Pass on the China border.
Topographically, Pakistan can be divided into six regions – northern mountains, northern plateau, western mountains, Baluchistan Plateau, south-east desert and the Indus plain. Coursing through it all like a 2500-km artery is the Indus River – rising in Tibet, flowing north-west and around Naga Parbat, dropping south out of the mountains to water a populous floodplain, and emptying through an immense delta into the Arabian Sea.
From Afghanistan the Hindu Kush Range, crowned by 7700-meter Tirich Mir, reaches across Chitral and , under the name Hindu Raj, continues east to the Indus. Northwards in Tajikistan begin the Pamirs. Along Pakistan’s border with China and south into Ladakh stretches the Karakoram Range, with the densest concentration of high peaks on earth –including 8611-meter K2 (Mt Godwin-Austen), second only to Everest-and the longest glaciers outside the polar regions. Poking into Pakistan within the curve of the Indus is the Himalayan Range, anchored here by 8126-meter Nanga Parbat. The Karakoram and Himalaya reveal the primordial collision zone between the Indian subcontinent and Asia.
The undulating lowlands at the feet of the mountains include the fertile Peshawar Valley (ancient Gandhara, watered by the Kabul River)west of the Indus and the sandy, eroded Potwar plateau across the northern Punjab to Islamabad. At the southern edge of the Potwar, overlooking the plains, is the dry salt Range. North-east Punjab, around Jhelum and Sialkot, catches a bit of the monsoon and is again fertile.
From the Hindu Kush down through the tribal lands of the NWFP and eastern Baluchistan runs a range of dry, scrubby,1500 to 2500-meter mountains called the Suleiman Range in the NWFP and the Kirthar Range in Baluchistan. The region’s most famous feature is the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan.
This hilly, parched and inhospitable plateau across western Baluchistan is the least popular part of the country. Some of Pakistan’s earliest known inhabitants tended goats and sheep here in the 4th millennium BC, and thing have changed little since then.
Form east of the Indus and Sutlej in Sind and southern Punjab, barren desert reaches on into Rajasthan in India. In the Punjab it’s called the Cholistan Desert, in Sind the Thar, and near the sea it degenerates into mangrove swamps.
The alluvial plain of the Indus and its four main tributaries –from north to south they are the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi and Sutlej –are Pakistan’s heart where most of its people live and most of its food is grown. The plains, all within Sind and the Punjab(Punjab liter- ally mean s ‘five water’), constitute about a third of the country. Though they get little rain, the fertile grassland doabs –the wedges of land between the rivers – are now irrigated by a vast complex of canals. An exception is the biggest one. Sind Sagar Doab west of the Jhelum, which is all desert.