Mountains dominate the landscape, forming a terrigenous skeleton, traversing
the center of the country, running generally in a northeast-southwest direction.
More than 49 percent of the total land area lies above 2,000 meters. Although
geographers differ on the division of these mountains into systems, they agree
that the Hindukush system, the most important, is the westernmost extension of
the Pamir Mountains, the Karakorum Mountains, and the Himalayas.
The origin of the term Hindukush (which translates as Hindu Killer) is also a
point of contention. Three possibilities have been put forward: that the
mountains memorialize the Indian slaves who perished in the mountains while
being transported to Central Asian slave markets; that the name is merely a
corruption of Hindu Koh, the pre-Islamic name of the mountains that divided
Hindu southern Afghanistan from non-Hindu northern Afghanistan; or, that the
name is a posited Avestan appellation meaning “water mountains.”
The mountain peaks in the eastern part of the country reach more than 7,000
meters. The highest of these is Nowshak at 7,485 meters. Mount Everest in Nepal
stands 8,796 meters high. The Pamir mountains, which Afghans refer to as the
‘Roof of the World,” extend into Tajikistan, China and Kashmir.
The mountains of the Hindukush system diminish in height as they stretch
westward: toward the middle, near Kabul, they extend from 4,500 to 6,000 meters;
in the west, they attain heights of 3,500 to 4,000 meters. The average altitude
of the Hindukush is 4,500 meters. The Hindukush system stretches about 966
kilometers laterally, and its median north-south measurement is about 240
kilometers. Only about 600 kilometers of the Hindukush system is called the
Hindukush mountains. The rest of the system consists of numerous smaller
mountain ranges including the Koh-e Baba; Salang; Koh-e Paghman; Spin Ghar (also
called the eastern Safid Koh); Suleiman; Siah Koh; Koh-e Khwaja Mohammad;
Selseleh-e Band-e Turkestan. The western Safid Koh, the Siah Band and Doshakh
are commonly referred to as the Paropamisus by western scholars.
Numerous high passes (kotal) transect the mountains, forming a
strategically important network for the transit of caravans. The most important
mountain pass is the Kotal-e Salang (3,878 meters); it links Kabul and points
south to northern Afghanistan. The completion of a tunnel within this pass in
1964 reduced travel time between Kabul and the north to a few hours. Previously
access to the north through the Kotal-e Shibar (3,260 meters) took three days.
The Salang Tunnel at 3363 meters and the extensive network of galleries on the
approach roads were constructed with Soviet financial and technological
assistance and involved drilling 1.7 miles through the heart of the Hindukush.
Before the Salang road was constructed, the most famous passes in the Western
historical perceptions of Afghanistan were those leading to the Indian
subcontinent. They include the Khyber Pass (,1027 meters), in Pakistan, and the
Kotal-e Lataband (2,499 meters) east of Kabul, which was superseded in 1960 by a
road constructed within the Kabul River’s most spectacular gorge, the Tang-e
Gharu. This remarkable engineering feat completed in 1960 reduced travel time
between Kabul and the Pakistan border from two days to a few hours.
The roads through the Salang and Tang-e Gharu passes played critical
strategic roles during the recent conflicts and were used extensively by heavy
military vehicles. Consequently these roads are in very bad repair. Many bombed
out bridges have been repaired, but numbers of the larger structures remain
broken. Periodic closures due to conflicts in the area seriously affect the
economy and well-being of many regions, for these are major routes carrying
commercial trade, emergency relief and reconstruction assistance supplies
destined for all parts of the country.
There are a number of other important passes in Afghanistan. Wakhjir (4,923
meters), proceeds from the Wakhan Corridor into Xinjiang, China, and into
Kashmir. Passes which join Afghanistan to Chitral, Pakistan, include the
Baroghil (3,798 meters) and the Kachin (5,639 meters), which also cross from the
Wakhan. Important passes located farther west are the Shotorgardan (3,720
meters), linking Logar and Paktiya provinces; the Bazarak (2,713 meters),
leading into Mazar-i-Sharif; the Khawak (3,550 meters)in the Panjsher Valley,
and the Anjuman (3,858 meters) at the head of the Panjsher Valley giving
entrance to the north. The Hajigak (2,713 meters) and Unai (3,350 meters) lead
into the eastern Hazarajat and Bamiyan Valley. The passes of the Paropamisus in
the west are relatively low, averaging around 600 meters; the most well-known of
these is the Sabzak between Herat and Badghis provinces, which links the western
and northwestern parts of Afghanistan.
These mountainous areas are mostly barren, or at the most sparsely sprinkled
with trees and stunted bushes. True forests, found mainly in the eastern
provinces of Nuristan and Paktiya, cover barely 2.9 of the country’s area. Even
these small reserves have been disastrously depleted by the war and through
illegal exploitation. The forests are in fact in a crisis situation. A 1996 a
FAO report estimated that of the 4.7 million acres of forests existing at the
beginning of the war, in 1979, considerably less than one million acres survive
Unseen Afghanistan Hindukush Mountains
The Hindu Kush is an 800kilometrelong mountain range that stretches through Afghanistan, from its centre to northern Pakistan and into Tajikistan and China.
The range has numerous high snowcapped peaks, with the highest point being Tirich Mir which rises near the Pakistan Afghanistan border to 7,690 metres.
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