The Indus Plain
South of the Salt Range the vast Indus Plain, drained by the Indus
River and its tributaries, stretches to the Arabian Sea. The plain is
composed of fertile alluvial deposits left by the overfl ow of the rivers.
Several rivers in addition to the Indus traverse the Himalayan ranges.
Their enormous fl ows in the rainy season often fl ood the surrounding
plains. The northern part is called the Punjab and gives its name to the
province that occupies the land. Most of this area is in Pakistan. The
elevation here ranges from 600 to 1,000 feet (183–305 m).
The land between two rivers is referred to as a doab. The Indus has
fi ve major tributaries, and thus Punjab has four doabs. The combined
waters of these tributaries, before joining the Indus near Mithankot,
is called the Panjad (fi ve rivers), thus the name of the province. The
Indus and its fi ve major tributaries join in Sind south of Mithankot.
Here the land is fl at, the river slow and wide, several miles across
in the wet season. Silt on its banks forms a natural barrier, but at
times the river has broken through and caused vast fl ooding, and has
changed course. Near the coast a delta and fl ood plain form the mouth
of the Indus. A coastal strip fi ve to 25 miles (8–40 km) wide contains
scattered mangrove swamps. Canals have been cut through the area,
providing access for water traffi c and trade. The Thar Desert occupies
the southeast portion of the Indus Plain, spanning both Pakistan and
Generally arid, Pakistan lies in a warm temperate zone. The year is
popularly regarded as having three seasons: summer, rainy season,
and winter. Hot, summery weather lasts from April to September,
and cold winters stretch from October to March. Monsoon rains
drench the region from July to September. Within its borders the
country has four primary climactic regions. The northern and northwestern mountains have very cold winters with frequent frosts and
heavy snowfalls. Summers are mild. On the plains to the south, the
low elevation and absence of sea breezes cause very hot summers.
During summer days, dry winds called loo blow. In the coastal areas
to the south the Arabian Sea provides a moderating infl uence, and
temperature variations are less extreme. The Baluchistan Plateau has
a climate similar to that of the northern regions, though warmer in
both summer and winter.
Today Pakistan is composed of four provinces, Punjab, Sind, the NorthWest Frontier Province (NWFP), and Baluchistan, and the Federally
Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a region between southwest NWFP
and Afghanistan largely outside of government control. The state of
Jammu and Kashmir is claimed by both Pakistan and India, and the
dispute over the territory has been the defining issue dividing the two
nations and inflaming passions on both sides of the border. The portion
of Jammu and Kashmir that is administered by the federal government
of Pakistan is divided into the Federally Administered Northern Areas,
commonly known as the Northern Areas, and Azad Kashmir.
Punjab is the most populous and developed of the four provinces.
Noted for its arts and crafts, it is considered the cultural capital of
Pakistan. Covering an area of 97,192 square miles (205,346 sq. km),
Punjab is primarily a plain, though its north is bisected by the Salt
Range, composed of the Murree and Kahuta hills on the north side
and the Pubbi Hills of Gujrat in the south. The Potwar Plateau
(1,000–2,000 feet; 305–610 m) lies north of the Salt Range, between
the Jhelum River in the east and the Indus River to the west. It is primarily an agricultural area and boasts one of the largest canal irrigation
systems in the world.
Punjab comprises eight administrative divisions. Its capital, Lahore,
is linked to most major events and movements in Pakistan’s history.
Situated on the left bank of the river Ravi, it is bristling with monuments
and buildings of great architectural and historical note. These include
the Badshahi Mosque, Emperor Jahangir’s Mausoleum, and the Shalimar
Gardens. Islamabad, the nation’s capital, lies some 170 miles (275 km)
north of Lahore. Its twin city, Rawalpindi, is a gateway to the hills and
mountains of Pakistan’s north, which draw hikers, trekkers, and mountain climbers from around the world. Taxila, another of the province’s
many points of interest, is an ancient city rich in archaeological sites
Throughout the province forts, palaces, mosques, and other grand edifices evidence the importance this region has long enjoyed. One of South
Asia’s earliest existing buildings with enameled tile work, the mausoleum
of Shah Yusuf Gardezi in Multan, was built here in 1152 c.e.
A Muslim artistic tradition developed in Punjab early in the Mughal
period, influenced by Central Asian and Persian artists. The renown of
artists such as Abdur Rahman Chughtai (1899–1975) and miniaturist
Haji Mohammad Sharif (1889–1978) remains undimmed today, and
their legacy remains alive in contemporary artists who continue in their
Carpet making and pottery, which have a rich history here, are also
widely practiced today. The pottery of Multan, where the Muslims fi rst
established a foothold in the region, was famed for its blue glazed pottery as early as the 13th century. Woodwork and metalwork in brass,
iron, and copper add to the province’s cultural legacy
The life and economy of Sind fl ows on the current of the river Sindhu,
or Indus, for which the province is named. Yet despite its aqueous
spine, this is among the hottest areas of Pakistan. Jaccobabad, in the
north of the province, is one of the hottest places on earth, with daytime temperatures in the summer rising to over 120 degrees F (49°C).
Comprising three divisions, the province covers 54,198 square miles
(140,914 sq. km). Sindhi, an ancient language, is spoken by a great
majority of the population.
The capital, Karachi, has been the nation’s primary seaport since
the 1700s and is the largest city in Sind. In addition to its position as a
trading center, Sind is also an industrial powerhouse, producing up to
half the nation’s goods in some manufacturing sectors. Rice, cotton, and
wheat give the province a strong agricultural base.
Important archaeological sites are scattered throughout Sind. Just east
of Karachi, Bhambore marks the site of the seaport of Debal, where the
fi rst Arab armies came ashore in 711 C.E. and began their conquests in
the region. Thatta, the former provincial capital, was once a center of
learning and still contains notable historical architecture. About 60 miles
(98 km) east of Karachi, it is also the site of the famed Makli Tombs, a
sprawling necropolis built between the 15th and 17th centuries.
The town of Sehwan predates the Islamic era and includes the ruins
of Kafi r-Qila, a fort reputedly built by Alexander the Great during his
invasion of the area in the fourth century B.C.E. It is also the site of pilgrimages by Shia who come to visit the tomb of the 12th-century mystic
poet, scholar, and saint Shaikh Usman Marvandvi.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Hyderabad was the capital of Sind,
and today it is noted for colorful handicrafts including glass, lacquered
furniture, and hand-loomed cloth, as well as several historic forts,
buildings, and monuments. Crafts remain important throughout the
province, which is noted for ajrak—local craftwork that includes pottery, carpets, leatherwork, and silk. Sind is also noted for its textiles
in the form of blankets, gold and silver embroidery, and cotton cloth
(soosi). As befi tting the fi rst outpost of Islam on the subcontinent,
poetry has long been a part of Sind’s cultural heritage.
3:North-West Frontier Province (NWFP)
The North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) boasts the largest concentration of high peaks in the world. Containing the restless tribal areas
and situated astride key mountain passes, including the Khyber Pass,
NWFP has long been an untamed and strategic corner of the region.
Most of the invaders who swept into the area that is now Pakistan—
including Alexander the Great, Timur, Emperor Babur, and Mahmud of
Ghazni—passed this way on their journeys of conquest.
The province in its present confi guration, covering 29,808 square
miles (74,521 sq. km), was created in 1901 and divided into “tribal”
and “settled” areas. The tribal areas are administered by the federal
government, while the settled areas are ruled by the fairly autonomous
provincial assembly, as are all the provinces. The province has fi ve
administrative divisions: Peshawar, Kohat, Hazura, Dera Ismail Khan,
and Malakand. Each of these is divided into two or more districts. The
provincial capital is Peshawar. This province was also the home of the
Gandhara Civilization, noted for its art, which blended Greco-Roman
and local traditions, often harnessed to glorify Buddha and the religion
he brought to this region. The valley of Udiyana, in the Swat River valley, was important during the Buddhist era of this region.
The largest of Pakistan’s four provinces (131,051 sq. miles; 347,190
sq. km), Baluchistan is a generally inhospitable land, and its lack of
resources left it relatively undisturbed by regional powers for most of
its history. Its geography encompasses mountains, coastal plains, and
rocky deserts on its high plateau. In the south, the Makran Range separates the coastal plain from the interior, a region of highland basins and
Southeast Baluchistan is cut by narrow river valleys. With little room
for alluvial deposits to settle, there is little agriculture. Archaeological
research in the areas of Mehrgarh, Nausharo, and Pirak in the Kachi
Plain indicates that settlements existed from the Neolithic period
through the Iron Age, beginning in the early seventh millennium B.C.E.
Dams were common to many settlements. The fi nal settlement phase of
this culture lasted until about 2600 B.C.E., the period when the Indus
Valley Civilization of the river plains to the east of Mehrgarh was beginning to develop. Evidence from this time period points to mass production of pottery and increasing trade and exchange. Near the middle of
the third millennium B.C.E., traces of human habitation end.
In historic times the area was fi rst claimed by the Persian Empire,
when it was called Maka. Alexander the Great brought it under nominal Greek rule in the fourth century B.C.E. The province takes its name
from the Baluchs, the last of the major ethnic groups to settle in what is
now Pakistan. The Baluchis, who may have originated from the Caspian
Sea area, arrived around 1000 C.E., displacing the Meds of Maran and
other tribes. The great Persian poet Firdausi (Abdul Kasim Mansur;
932–1021) mentioned the Baluchs and their valor in his epic poem
Shah Namah (The Book of Kings), along with the warlike Kuch.
Baluchistan became a full-fl edged province only in 1969. It has
six administrative divisions: Quetta, Sibi, Kalat, Makran, Loralai, and
Nasirabad. Each of these is composed of two or more districts. The
capital of Baluchistan is Quetta, located by the Bolan Pass.
Three main languages are spoken: Baluchi, Pashto, and Brauhvi.
Urdu, Pakistan’s national language, is understood as well. The Baluchi,
the language of the Baluchs, has Indo-Iranian roots. The strong
national identity of the Baluchis—their tribes extend into Iran and
Afghanistan—along with the historic lack of government attention and
services, has made them resistant to being incorporated into the fabric
of Pakistan. The region has been marked by periodic insurrections that
continued into the 21st century.
Though only about 1.2 million of its 85 million acres is under cultivation, the province’s economy is based on agriculture. The production
of fruit in Baluchistan gives the province the sobriquet Fruit Garden of
Pakistan. With little rainfall in the region, irrigation depends mostly
on wells, karezes (underground water conduits), and springs. Canals
irrigate about 1,000 square miles (2,590 sq. km). Livestock, primarily
sheep and goats, are also a mainstay of the agricultural sector. In the
Arabian Sea to the south, a fi shing industry fl ourishes.
Though rich in minerals including iron ore and copper, Baluchistan
has lagged in development of these resources. Facilities for the textile,
pharmaceutical, and gas industries have recently been constructed,
and the government has established economic incentives to encourage
investment in the province.