Natural Conditions of Afghanistan

By | March 21, 2021

You can think of Afghanistan as a hand with its back up, pointing from northeast to southwest. The back of the hand corresponds to the main ridge of the Hindu Kush, the peaks of which rise over 7000 m, the splayed fingers form the mountain ranges that extend from the Hindu Kush. The most important rivers such as Kabul, Hilmend, Farah Rud, Hari Rud and Murghab flow between the fingers. In the northeast, the Panj forms the main tributary of the Amu Darya, also known as the Oxus in ancient times. The Amu Darya begins after the Kunduz and Vakhsh rivers meet in the Panj. It runs along the Afghan borders with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and, to a small extent, Turkmenistan and originally drained into the Aral Sea. Today, however, it no longer reaches it, but ends up in an inland delta in Uzbekistan. Afghanistan is a country located in southern Asia according to internetsailors.

Only two passes that are passable all year round, provided they are not temporarily blocked by heavy snowfall, the Sabzak (2120 m) in the west and the Salang (3878 m) in the east connect northern Afghanistan with the rest of the country.

In terms of landscape, Afghanistan can be divided into the following seven regions:

  • the plains and hilly lands (“Baktriane”) bordering the northern border river Amu Darya; Thanks to its loess soils, this region is one of the most fertile cultural landscapes in Afghanistan and is irrigated by rivers from the northern central highlands (Balkhab, Safed Rud, Samangan, Kunduz). Immediately on the Amu Darya, which is the only Afghan river to be navigable all year round, there is an approximately 50 kilometer wide desert belt of sand dunes that only the Kunduz River can cross. The other rivers mentioned are drying up south of it in inland deltas.
  • the western hill country along the Iranian border; It extends from Gulran on the Turkmen border over the river oasis of the Hari Rud with the city of Herat to around Farah Rud, where it merges into the desert region of the Hilmend basin described below. Apart from the river oases, steppe vegetation predominates, which increasingly turns into semi-desert to the south. Extensive salt plains (Namaksar, Dasht-e Naomid) without vegetation extend directly on the Iranian border.
  • the actual Hindu Kush; the imposing high mountains in the east and northeast, with which Afghanistan is usually identified across the board (“Land on the Hindu Kush”). The main chain of the Hindu Kush begins east of Bamiyan with peaks around 5000 m, which rise rapidly to the east. To the east of the Anjuman Pass, considerably more than 6000 m are reached, in the Wakhan Corridor finally up to 7490 m (Noshaq, the highest mountain in Afghanistan). The snow line is between 4700 and 5500 m, so that glaciation also increases to the east. The southern side chains of the Hindu Kush (Nuristan) are already in the area of influence of the Indian summer monsoon, whose rains here enable tall forests of oak, pine and cedar that are rarely found in Afghanistan.
  • the central highlands; Most of the rivers that irrigate the mountainous landscapes of the north, west and south-west have their source here, including the Hilmend, Afghanistan’s longest river with just over 1,000 kilometers. Although the central highlands are commonly counted as part of the Hindu Kush, it differs significantly from the latter both in terms of landscape and climate. Apart from the Koh-e Baba chain south of Bamiyan, there are no elevations over 5000 m, as pronounced high mountain landscapes are rare. Instead, wavy relief predominates at sea levels between 2500 and 4000 m. The original vegetation, namely open tree corridors with pistachio and juniper species, has, like the forests in other parts of the country, been severely decimated by overgrazing, drought and, last but not least, by the effects of war; meanwhile, steppe to semi-desert vegetation dominates here as well.
  • the inner-montane basin landscapes of eastern Afghanistan (Kabul, Jalalabad); the upper Kabul basin with the Afghan capital and the fertile Shomali plain, located at an altitude of 1500 to 1900 m, is the most densely populated region of Afghanistan and one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country. Through several gorge-like breakthroughs, the Kabul River reaches the lower Kabul Basin with the city of Jalalabad, the former winter residence of the Afghan kings, further east. In contrast to the temperate continental upper basin, there is a dry subtropical climate with very mild winters (frost and snow are almost unknown), in which cold-sensitive cultures such as date palms and bananas thrive, including fauna leads over to the Indian subcontinent with rhesus monkeys, parrots and monitor lizards.
  • the southeastern highlands between Kabul and Kandahar with the basins and breakthrough valleys to the Pakistani border; rises gradually from 1100 m at Kandahar to 2700 m (north of Ghazni), and then drops to the upper Kabul basin. Some rivers arise here, the valleys of which expand near the Pakistani border to form basin landscapes with a subtropical climate similar to that in the lower Kabul Basin; the most important are the Khost Sin and the Kurram. The mountain ranges that border these basins to the west are in the area of influence of the Indian monsoons and are therefore more or less densely forested, similar to Nuristan further north.
  • the southwest Hilmend Basin; a flat desert landscape with heights between 400 and 1000 m in the Sistan Depression. In the Iranian-Afghan border area there are a number of shallow lakes (Hamun-e Helmand, Hamun-e Saberi, Hamun-e Puzak), which are mainly fed by Hilmend, Farah Rud and Khash Rud. During longer periods of drought it happens that these rivers dry up in the lower reaches and the end lakes dry up completely. The Hilmend cuts through the southern desert areas into a western part (Dasht-e Margo, the “desert of death”), with predominantly gravel and gravel desert, and an eastern part (Registan, Persian “sandland”), in which extensive dune fields predominate.


Village in Laghman Province in eastern Afghanistan in the southeastern Hindu Kush

Village in Laghman Province in eastern Afghanistan in the southeastern Hindu Kush