Official name: Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Area: 803,940 square kilometers (310,403 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: K2 (Mount Godwin-Austen) (8,611 meters/28,251 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 5 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1,875 kilometers (1,165 miles) from northeast to southwest; 1,006 kilometers (625 miles) from southeast to northwest
Land boundaries: 6,774 kilometers (4,209 miles) total boundary length; China 523 kilometers (325 miles); India 2,912 kilometers (1,809 miles); Iran 909 kilometers (565 miles); Afghanistan 2,430 kilometers (1,510 miles)
Coastline: 1,046 kilometers (650 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Pakistan is located in South Asia between the Himalaya Mountains and the Arabian Sea—west of India, east of Iran and Afghanistan, and south of China. The nation is almost two times the size of California, and is divided up into four provinces and one territory.
Since their creation as independent countries in 1947, India and Pakistan have disputed ownership of the northern region of Jammu and Kashmir. The simmering tension has erupted into fighting between the neighbors in 1948, 1965, and 1971; the dispute continues to be a source of sporadic conflict in the early 2000s.
Pakistan is in the temperate zone and varies greatly in weather conditions—from the humid coast to the dry, hot desert interior to the icy mountains in the north. Four seasons are experienced in the country: winter from December through February; a hot, dry spring from March through May; the arrival of the southwest monsoon from June through September; and the northeast monsoon from October through November. In the north and west, the rainy season occurs during the winter
The northern capital, Islamabad, has average temperatures ranging from a low of 2°C (35°F) in January to a high of 40°C (104°F) in June. The southern port of Karachi has average temperatures varying from a low of 13°C (55°F) in winter to a high of 34°C (93°F) in summer.
Arid conditions prevail in most of Pakistan, which misses the full force of the monsoons. Punjab has had major fluctuations in monsoon rainfall, with droughts in some years and floods in others. On Pakistan's plains, the average annual rainfall is a mere 13 centimeters (5 inches), while in the highlands it is 89 centimeters (35 inches). Hailstorms are common, and snow falls in the north in winter. The lofty mountains of the north are permanently cloaked in snow and ice.
Pakistan can be divided into three major geographic areas: the northern highlands, the Indus River plain, and the Baluchistan Plateau. About one-third of the Pakistan-India border is also the cease-fire line in the Jammu and Kashmir region, disputed between the two countries since their independence.
Pakistan lies at the border of three tec-tonic plates: the Arabian, Indian, and Eurasian. The Arabian Plate meets with the Eurasian Plate at the coastline in southeastern Pakistan. On Pakistan's eastern and northeastern border, the Eurasian Plate collides with the Indian Plate; as a result, seismic activity is high along this border. The region surrounding Quetta is also prone to frequent and devastating earthquakes.
The coastline of Pakistan meets the Arabian Sea of the northern Indian Ocean.
There are no notable sea inlets or straits in Pakistan.
Pakistan's only major offshore island is Astola (Haft Talar), about 25 kilometers (15 miles) south of Baluchistan in the Arabian Sea, with an area of 50 square kilometers (19 square miles). Astola is a turtle-nesting area and a bird and reptile habitat.
Baluchistan's Ormara Turtle Beaches, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) along the western coast, are a habitat for endangered sea turtles; mud volcanoes also sputter along this shore. The central coast is indented by Sonmiani Bay. The coast has few settlements, except for Pakistan's largest city, the port of Karachi. The city's beaches are badly polluted by oil spills, sewage, and industrial toxic waste, all of which pours directly into the ocean.
In Pakistan's southeast is Manchhar Lake, once a large body of fresh water (roughly 259 square kilometers/100 square miles) and a major habitat for birds and fish. Pollution and water diversion have shrunk the lake dramatically, however, and made its waters increasingly saline. Other lakes in the lower Indus region face extinction, including Kerjhar Lake and Hammal Lake. Kinjhar (Kalri) Lake, Haleji Lake, and Drigh Lake are wildlife sanctuaries in this region. Further north are the Khabbaki, Uchali and Jahlar Lakes. The far-northern basin known as Snow Lake is a massive snowbed, comprising the Sim Gang Glacier and a frozen glacial lake with ice more than 15 kilometers (9 miles) thick.
The Indus River is an irrigation lifeline for much of the country. The Indus rises in the Tibetan Himalayas. After crossing the Indian-administered portion of Jammu and Kashmir, it enters Pakistan and flows southwest for 1,609 kilometers (1,000 miles) to the Arabian Sea. At Attock, the Indus receives the waters of the Kabul River from the west. After being joined by the Gumal River, the Indus continues south to Mithanhot, where it is joined by its major tributary, the Panjnad. The short Panjnad River, about 121 kilometers (75 miles) long, is actually the combined input of the "five rivers of the Punjab": the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej. The principal river of Baluchistan is the Zhob, running along the southern slopes of the Toba Kakar Range and north into the Gumal River. In southern Baluchistan, several minor rivers flow into the Arabian Sea; these include the Dasht, Mashkai, Nal, and Porali.
Pakistan's Thal Desert is south of the Salt Range, between the Indus and Jhelum Rivers. The Thar Desert (Cholistan Desert) lies south of the Sutlej River along the Pakistan-India border. Both these Pakistani desert regions are extensions of India's Thar Desert.
The Baluchistan Plateau is largely a desert area with erosion, sand dunes, and sandstorms. There is also a dry region in the northern Chilas-Gilgit area. In addition to existing deserts, the environmental change called desertification is occurring across Pakistan, with more than one-third of the country considered at risk. Deforestation, depletion of soil, and water shortages are causing desertification as vegetation is cut and stripped away.
The upper Indus River plain, in Punjab, varies from about 152 to 304 meters (500 to 1,000 feet) in elevation. The lower Indus Plain, generally corresponding to the province of Sind, is lower in altitude. On the Indus plain, grasslands called doabs provide grazing on the strips of land between rivers.
Coniferous and deciduous forests, scrub woods, mangrove forests, and tree plantations grow in Pakistan. Some 40 percent of the forests are conifer or scrub woods, found mainly in mountain watershed areas. Pakistan's forest cover has been reduced to less than four percent of the land area. Deforestation in northern Pakistan has caused severe erosion.
The Margalla Hills, 610 to 914 meters (2,000 to 3,000 feet) high, are foothills of the northern mountains that overlook Islamabad, the capital. The Swat and Chitral Hills in the northwest have heights of 1,524 to 1,829 meters (5,000 to 6,000 feet).
The northern highlands are a convergence of some of the most rugged mountains in the world. The Himalayas stretch from northeast India to the northeast corner of Pakistan, where they merge into the Karakoram and Pamirs mountain ranges. West of the Pamirs are the heights and steep valleys of the Hindu Kush.
In the northern mountains, virtually all elevations are higher than 2,438 meters (8,000 ft) above sea level. More than fifty peaks are above 6,705 meters (22,000 feet). The soaring summits of K2 (Mount Godwin Austen) in the Karakoram Range, the world's second-highest mountain (8,611 meters/28,251 feet), and Nanga Parbat (8,126 meters/26,660 feet) in the Himalayan range, have posed often-deadly challenges to climbing expeditions. Enormous glaciers sprawl across this region, including Baltoro and Pasu, each of which is longer than 50 kilometers (31 miles).
The Safed Koh range south of the northern highlands and west of the Indus River plain reaches 4,761 meters (15,620 feet) in its extension to the Afghanistan border. This area includes the strategic Khyber Pass, which connects the Peshawar Valley to Afghanistan. South of the Safed Koh and near the border are the mountains of Waziristan. Beyond them, the Toba Kakar range, with an average elevation of about 2,743 meters (9,000 feet), extends from northern Baluchistan to the Khojak Pass. The Rās Koh range, west of the city of Quetta, and the Chagai Hills extending further west complete the western highlands.
Northern Pakistan has many narrow, twisting canyons, particularly in Hunza. The Indus River rushes through the steep Attock Gorge near the Khyber Pass.
The Baluchistan Plateau, at an elevation of 914 to 1,219 meters (3,000 to 4,000 feet), is an arid tableland of approximately 350,945 square kilometers (135,000 square miles). The Potwar Plateau, at the foot of the mountains south of Islamabad, is a dry, eroded area where most of Pakistan's oil is located.
Pakistan has two major river dams. In northern Punjab, near Kashmir, the Mangla Dam sits on the Jhelum River. The Tarbela Dam is situated on the Indus near Taxila. Dams on the Indus River, built for hydropower or agricultural water diversion, have been extremely controversial. The provincial governments of Sind and Baluchistan believe that Punjab Province is diverting too much water from the Indus. Intensive irrigation has led to a crisis of water-logging and salinity throughout the farmlands of the Indus Basin. In this geological syndrome, salty water seeps from canals into surrounding soil, which the salt renders useless for farming as the water evaporates.
Britton, Tamara L. Pakistan . Edina, MN: Abdo, 2003.
Deady, Kathleen. Pakistan . Mankato, MN: Bridgestone Books, 2001.
Schofield, Victoria. Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan, and the Unfinished War . New York: I.B. Taurus, 2000.