Modern day Pakistan comprises of the Provinces of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North West Frontier Province) Punjab and Sind.
Balochistan Plateau East of the Sulaiman and Kirthar ranges lies the Balochistan Plateau with an average altitude of 2,000 ft.(610 m). The physical features of the plateau are very varied, but mountains, plateaus and basins predominate the scene. The Mountains spread in various directions, attaining height 6,000- 11,000 ft. (1,830-3,335 m).
In the north are the Toba Kakar Range and Chagai hills which form the border of Pakistan with Afghanistan for some distance. In the west-central part is the Siahan Range and in the east-southern corner the Mekran Range. Except for the Toba Kakar Range, which is dotted here and there with juniper, tamarisk and pistachio trees, all other ranges are naked and bleak. The mountains are carved off by innumerable channels and hill torrents which contain water only after rains. Very little water, however, reaches the basins lying on their foot. Comparatively more important rivers are Zhob, Bolan and Mulla, located in the north-eastern portion of Balochistan.
The valleys of the main streams and their tributaries exhibit similar feature and consist of flat plains of alluvial soil in the centre, with a pebbly slope of varying length rising on either sides of the mountains. It is from these pebbly beds that the supply of water for irrigation is chiefly obtained through Karezes. Zhob, Bloan and their tributaries have formed two important alluvial basins of Balochistan, namely, the Lorlai basin and Quetta basin, which together produce a major portion of Balochistan's crops and fruits: wheat, barley, maize, lucerne, potato, apple, apricot, peach, almond, grape and pomegranate. Kalat Plateau at 7,000-8,000 ft. (2,135-2,440 m), in the centre of Balochistan is the most important plateau.
The largest desert is found in western Balochistan. This is an area of inland drainage and dry lakes (hamuns), the largest of which is Hamun-i-Mashkhel, which is 54 miles long and 22 miles wide. The surface is littered with sun-cracked clay, oxidized pebbles, salty marshes and crescent-shaped moving sand dunes. The area is known particularly for its constant mirage and sudden severe sand-storms. Being outside the sphere of monsoon current, Balochistan receives scanty and irregular rainfall (4 inches); the temperature is very high in summer and very low in winter.
Owing to continuous draught, there is very little vegetation. Most of the people, therefore, lead nomadic life, raising camels, sheep and goats. Balochistan is, however, fortunate to have considerable mineral wealth of natural gas, coal, chromate, lead, sulphur and marble. The reserves of natural gas at Sui are among the largest in the world. The gas is piped to Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Multan, Faisalabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Quetta for use as industrial power.
Khyber Pass, the largest and the most renowned of these, is 56 kilometres long and connects Kabul in Afghanistan with the fertile vale of Peshawar in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Tochi Pass connects Ghazni is Afghanistan with Bannu in Pakistan and the Gomal Pass provides a route from Afghanistan to Dera Ismail Khan which overlooks the Punjab Plain. the Bolan Pass connects the Sind Plain with Quetta in Balochistan and onward through Chaman with Afghanistan. Enclosed by the branches of western mountains are a number of fertile plains which have been formed by rivers rising from these mountains and falling into Indus.
From north to south are the vale of Peshawar (Kabul River), Kohat Plain (Kohat River) and Bannu Plain (River Kurram and Tochi), Peshawar valley covers some 2,200 sq. miles (5,698 sq.km) and is very fertile. It is irrigated by a network of canals which are supplemented by water of the Warsak Dam on Kabul River. Wheat, maize, sugarcane tobacco and sugar-beet are cultivated in large quantities.
Large industrial Plants have been established at Peshawar, Mardan, Nowshera and Charsadda. The sugar mills at Mardan and Charsadda are reported to be the largest in Asia. Kohat valley is uneven and broken, but has fertile soil. The Tanda Dam on River Kohat supplemented water of the tube-wells and the small tanks formed by damming the rivers. Wheat, barley, gram, maize, rice and melons are grown in substantial quantities. Kohat (76,000), an important town, owes its significance as a marketing centre and a cantonment.
The Bannu lowland is made of sandy and gravelly materials brought down by rivers, except for a small area near Bannu town (43,000), which contains rich silt. Perenial irrigation, made possible by the construction of the Kurram Garhi Dam on River Tochi, is confined to the land between River Kurram and River Tochi. The Bannu plain produces wheat, gram, maize, barely, rice and sugarcane. In non-irrigated parts of Kohat and Bannu plains are raised flat tailed sheep, camels and donkeys and wool is the most important commercial crop.
The Sind plain comprises mainly the province of Sind and stretches between the Punjab plain and the Arabian Sea. River Indus flows here as a single river and the plain comprises a vast fertile tract stretching westward from the narrow strip of flood plain on the right bank of River Indus, and a vast expanse of desert stretching eastward from the left bank. The desert area is dry and desolate like Cholistan in the Punjab plain. But, the plain area right of River Indus is green with a vast stretches of vegetation lined everywhere with avenues of trees. It is the heart of the Indus Valley Civilization dating back to 3rd millennium B.C.
Thousands of tourists from all over the world are attracted every year to visit the ruins of Moenjodaro near Larkana. An elaborate canal system taken from Sukkur Barrage at Sukkur, Upper Sind Barrage north of Sukkur at Guddu, and Lower Sind Barrage (Ghulam Muhammad Barrage) at Hyderabad, irrigate together in this area over 10,000,0000 acres and account for about 40 per cent of Pakistan's irrigated land.
The fertile area yields abundant crops of rice, wheat and cotton and contains the bulk of the population and most of the major commercial and industrial centres of Sind such as Hyderabad(795,000), Sukkur (193,000), Larkana (123,000), Nawabshah (102,000), Shikarpur (88,000) and Dadu (39,000).
However, its southern part is one of the worst areas of Pakistan for waterlogging and salinity. There are many lakes in Sind,which attract thousands of migratory birds during the winter season from Central Asia. Manchhar lake with its highly pulsating expanse of about 200 sq. miles of area is the largest lake. With its foliage of towering grasses, its meadows of floating lotus, its inhabitants in their floating habitations, the lake presents an attractive look. Further south, stretches the Indus Delta, which is a savage waste. An important feature is the Kinjhar Lake near Thatta, which acts as a great reservoir for feeding canals in the adjacent areas. During winter, it is an ideal spot for fishing and duck shooting.
South of the Kinjhar Lake, the surface is broken and littered with abandoned channels of distributries, sandy beaches, ridges and mangrove swamps, all merging into the dead creeks, grate and salt water of the coast of Rann of Kutch. At the extreme northwestern end of the delta stands Karachi, the largest city and the industrial and commercial hub of Pakistan. It is also the port for Pakistan and terminal of Pakistan's railway system and the site of the country's principal international airport. Climate and Seasons As Pakistan is located on a great landmass north of Tropic of Cancer, between latitudes 24 and 37 N, it has a continental type of climate, characterized by extreme variations of temperature.
The areas closer to the snow-covered northern mountains are cold. Temperatures on the Balochistan Plateau are comparatively high. Along the coastal strop, the climate is modified by sea breezes. In the rest of the country, temperature rises steeply in the summer and hot winds, called "loo", blow across the plains during the day, dust storms and thunderstorms occasionally lower the temperature. The diurnal variation in temperature may be as much as 11 to 17oC. Winters are cold with minimum temperature of about 4oC in January. Rainfall Pakistan experiences a general deficiency of rainfall.
The Punjab plain comprises mainly the province of Punjab. It is the gift of River Indus and its five eastern tributaries- Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and Beas. The plain spreads from the south of Potohar plateau up to Mithankot, where Sulaiman Range approaches river Indus. The Punjab plain is almost a featureless plain with a gentle slope southward averaging one foot to the mile. The only break in the alluvial monotony is the little group of broken hills(100 ft-1,600ft.) near Sangla and Irana on either side of the Chenab. A network of canals extensively irrigates the entire plain.
This system has been greatly expanded and improved in recent years by the construction of link-canals, dams and barrages as a result of the Indus Water Treaty with India, which awarded the three western rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab) to Pakistan, and the three eastern rivers (Ravi,Sutlej and Beas) to India. Tarbela Dam on river Indus and Mangla Dam on River Jhelum, which have water storage capacities of 11.1 million acre ft. and 5.55 million acre ft. respectively, need a special mention. Irrigation water is supplemented by summer and winter rains(15-20 inches) so that a variety of crops is raised, the major one being wheat, rice, cotton and sugarcane.
The region has earned the name of granary of Pakistan. However, the blessings of canal irrigation have not been without a curse, which render about 100,000 acres of land unproductive every year through waterlogging and salinity. The menace has been greatly controlled through salinity control and reclamation projects. Agricultural development boosted urbanization and industrialization so that the region has emerged as the most important economically developed area of Pakistan, containing over 56 per cent of the population and most of the commercial and industrial centres of the country, such as Lahore (2,922,000), Faisalabad (1,092.000). Multan (730,000), Gujranwala (596,000), Sialkot (297,000) and Gujrat (154,000).
The south eastern section of the region known as Cholistan is under-developed. This tract is parched and thirsty. The summer temperature average 51.7oC and the area remains under the grip of extremely hot winds. The surface of this desert consists of a succession of sand dunes rising in places to a height of 500 ft. with vegetation peculiar to sandy tracts. There is no soil down to the lowest depth except sand; bitter water is, however, sometimes found at depth of about 80-100 ft.
The Potohar Upland, commonly called the Potohar Plateau, lies to the south of northern mountains and is flanked in the west by River Indus and in the east by River Jhelum. This 1,000-2,000 ft.(305-610 m) upland is a typical arid landscape with denuded and broken terrain characterised by undulations and irregularities. These are a few outlying spurs of Salt Range in the south, and those of Khair Murad and Kala Chitta Range in the north.
Two seasonal streams-Rivers Haro and River Soan-flow from east to the west and after crossing the region in the north and in the middle respectively, fall in the Indus. River Kanshi traverses the eastern part of the plateau from north to south and drains into River Jhelum. These rivers and other hill torrents have cut deep valleys and are of little use for irrigation. Agriculture is thus almost entirely dependent on rainfall of 15-20 inches and on the small dams built in the catchment areas of the streams.
Fields of wheat, barley, jowar, bajra and pulses are found in valley bottoms and on the terraced slopes along riverbanks. A new economic factor has been introduced by the establishment of a few factories in Rawalpindi and Islamabad and a large industrial area in the Taxila-Wah-Hassanabdal triangle, where a large cement factory was already in existence. The region is particulary known for its oilfields in Khaur-Dhulian neighbourhood, the ancient civilization sites in Soan valley, the ruins and the Buddhist University at Taxila and the new capital, Islamabad, which stands north of the old city of Rawalpindi (806,000) at the southern slops of Murree hills, the popular Holiday resort of the country. Salt Range The ramparts of the Salt Range stretching from east to west in the south separate potohar upland from the Punjab plain.
The average height of the Salt Range is about 700 metres, but near Sakesar in Sargodha district, it rises to 1,500 metres, making summer pleasant. The southern face is remarkably steep, dissected and intensely arid. But, the northern slope is gentle and has sparse vegetation of oleanders and wild olives. The top of the range is a narrow belt of isolated plateaus and basins, where, sparse stunted trees and fields of wheat and maize are found. However, the real importance of the salt mines lies in the large deposits of pure salt at Khewra and Kalabagh and the large seams of coal at Dandot and Makerwal.