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Humshehri: Thinking Pakistan's History

Thinking Pakistan's History

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Regions

Urdu Version

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa consists of mountainous areas to the north, and Trans-Indus Plains and minor mountain ranges to the south.

Last Updated: 27 Jan. 2014


Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) can be divided into two natural geographical regions: mountainous areas to the north, and Trans-Indus plains and minor mountain ranges to the south. The mountainous areas comprise of the Hindu Kush Mountains, the Himalaya Mountains, and the Dir, Swat and Kohistan Ranges. The Trans-Indus plains are also referred to as intermontane valleys and include the valleys of Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu, and Dera Ismail Khan. These valleys are enclosed on three sides by hills and mountains, but open up to the Indus River in the east. The Kabul River is considered to be rough boundary between the mountainous areas and the Trans-Indus plains.

Region Map
KPK physical map
(Columbia University)

Mountainous areas

The northern areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are mostly mountainous. The Hindu Kush Range to the north begins in Gilgit-Baltistan and moves west into Chitral District of KPK and continues into Afghanistan. To the south the Hindu Kush Mountains are roughly bounded by the Ghizer River, a tributary of the Indus. Tirich Mir, located in Chitral District, is the highest mountain of the Hindu Kush in Pakistan at a height of 7690 meters.

Immediately south of the Hindu Kush lie three subparallel ranges: Kohistan, Swat and Dir Ranges. All three run in a north-south direction and are separated from each other by rivers. The most easterly is the Kohistan Range and is bounded by the Indus River in the east and Swat River in the west. In the middle lies the Swat Range which is bounded on the east by Swat River and on the west by Panjkora River. The westerly range is the Dir Range which is bounded on the east by Panjkora River and on the west by Kunar River. These ranges vary greatly in altitude as they move north to south. To the north, their elevation can reach 5,000- 6,000 meter and to the south their elevation can be as low as 200 meters. These three subparallel ranges are found mostly in Malakand Division, Mardan Division, and Kohistan District.

Part of the Himalaya Mountains is also found in KPK. The Himalayas are generally divided into 3 subparallel ranges: Great or High Himalayas, Lesser Himalayas, and Sub-Himalayas. In KPK province, the Great Himalayas are found in Kohistan District and on the eastern end of Mansehra District while the Lesser Himalayas are found in Battagram, Mansehra, and Abbotabad Districts. The Sub-Himalayas are present in Pakistan but are not found in KPK province.

Trans-Indus plains

Immediately below the mountainous areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lie the Trans-Indus plains, also referred to as intermontane valleys, and several minor hill ranges. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that lies to the west of KPK and below the Khyber River consists of the Safed Koh Range and the Waziristan Hills, both of which form a barrier between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Both the Safed Koh and Waziristan Hills run in an east-west direction and their offshoots can be found in parts of KPK and help to enclose the intermontane valleys.

Safed Koh means white mountains because these mountains are often covered with snow. This range is located between the Kabul River and Kurram Pass. In the east, these mountains merge with the Kohat Hills of KPK. The Khyber Pass is the most important pass located in this range and it lies immediately south of Kabul River. This pass connects Kabul to the Peshawar valley which is the most northerly and largest of the intermontane valleys of KPK. It is drained by the Kabul and Swat Rivers and is situated 300 meters high. It is bounded by the Khyber hills on the north and northwest, the Attock-Cherat hills to the south, and by the Swat Range in the north and north east. Peshawar Valley is located in Peshawar Division.

The Kurram Pass is also located in Safed Koh Range and the intermontane valley of Kohat lies on its eastern end. Kohat Valley is the smallest and highest of the intermontane valleys and is located in Kohat Division. It is drained by the Kohat River and is situated 460 meters high. It is separated from Peshawar Valley in the north by the Jowaki Range.

The Waziristan Hills are located between the Safed Koh and Gomal River. These hills are crossed by the Kurram River and Tochi River. The Tochi Pass is located in these hills and connects Ghazni in Afghanistan with Bannu Valley in KPK. Bannu Valley, situated 150 meters high, is a low basin of the Kurram and Tochi Rivers and is located in Bannu Division. Immediately south of Bannu lies the valley of Dera Ismail Khan. The Pezu Gap between the Marwat and Bhittani Hills connects these two valleys. Dera Ismail Khan is a vast barren plain drained by the Gomal River and is located in Dera Ismail Khan Division. The Gomal Pass connects this valley to Afghanistan.

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Books & Articles

Khalid, Nazir A. Geography of Pakistan. Lahore: Career, 2003.

Khan, Fazle K. Pakistan: Geography, Economy and People. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006.

Meyer, William S., et al. Imperial Gazetteer of India. Vol. 19. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908-1931. Digital South Asia Library. University of Chicago.