Pakistan's Geographic Challenge

MIN READNov 28, 2016 | 21:09 GMT

Stratfor explains how Pakistan's borders, which do not correspond to natural geographic boundaries, shape the country.

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Pakistan is located in South Asia and is bordered by Iran, Afghanistan, China and India. To the north are the Himalayan Mountains, which branch off into the Hindu Kush range. To the southwest is the vast Balochistan Plateau, which is arid and sparsely populated. In the south is the Thar Desert and a 650-mile coast along the Arabian sea. The Indus River begins in the Tibetan Plateau and cuts through the country’s eastern half.  The river nourishes the fertile plains of the Punjab, the country’s populous core region and its political and economic heartland.

Pakistan’s primary geographic challenge arises from its borders, which do not correspond to natural geographic boundaries.  The modern borders of Pakistan were created in 1947, when the nation was carved out of the Muslim-majority northwest and northeast portions of India.  The countries have fought three wars since independence, and each claims the territory of Kashmir.  Bangladesh, then known as “East Pakistan”, gained independence from Pakistan in 1971 with India’s help.  This reinforced the notion within Pakistan that India was an existential threat. Pakistan has long sought to gain influence in Afghanistan, both to secure strategic depth and to prevent Kabul from falling into New Delhi’s orbit.

On the west, the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan—called the Durand Line—has remained contentious since it was created by the British in 1893. Kabul claims that Afghanistan’s true boundary runs deep into Pakistan to absorb the Pashtun tribal belt divided between both countries. The mountainous terrain has made the region difficult to govern, ensuring that the border remains porous. 


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