1902 Encyclopedia > Afghanistan > Afghanistan - Introduction. Surface Geography.

(Part 1)

(1) Afghanistan - Introduction. Surface Geography.

. This is the name applied, originally in Persian, to that mountainous region between N.W. India and Eastern Persia, of which the Afghans are the most numerous and the predominant inhabitants. Afghans, under that and other names, have played no small part kin Asiatic history. But the present extensive application of the name Afghanistan is scarcely older than the shortlived empire founded by Ahmed Khan in the middle of last century. The Afghans themselves are not in the habit of using the term.

In treating of this country we include a part of the Hazara mountain region, but not that part of the Oxus basin which is now under Afghan rule, for which see AFGHAN TURKESTAN.

Afghanistan generally may be regarded as a great quadrilateral plateau, using that term in the technical sense of a region whose lowest tracts even are considerably elevated above the sea-level, -- extending from about 62° to 70° E. long, and from 30° to 35° N. lat. This territory corresponds fairly to the aggregate of the ancient provinces of Aria (Heart), Drangiana (Seistan), the region of the Paropamisadoe (Kabul), and Arachosia (Kandahar), with Gandaritis (Peshawar and Yuzufzai). Though the last territory belongs ethnically to Afghanistan, and important part of it now forms the British district of Peshawar, whilst the remainder acknowledges no master.

The boundaries of Afghanistan can be stated here only roughly; and from the area thus broadly defined, many portions will have to deducted as occupied by independent or semi-independent tribes. But, so understood, they may be thus stated: -

On the north: beginning from east, the great range of Hindu Kush, a western offshoot of the Himalya, parting the Oxus basin from the Afghan basins of the Kabul river and Helmand. From long 68° this boundary continues westward in the prolongation of Hindu Kush called Koh-I- Baba. This breaks into several almost parallel, branches enclosing the valleys of the river of Heart and the Murghab or river of Merv. The half-independent Hazara tribes stretch across these branches and down into the Oxus basin, so that it is difficult here to assign a boundary. We assume it to continue along the range called Safed Koh or "White Mountain," which parts the Heart river valley from the Murchab.

On the east: the eastern base of the spurs of the Sulimani and other mountains which limit the plains on the west bank of Indus, and the lower valleys opening into these, which plains (the "Derajat") and lower valleys belong to British India. North of Peshawar district the boundary will be, for a space, the Indus, and then the limit, lying in unknown country, between the Afghan and Dard tribes.

On the south: the eastern part of the boundary, occupied by practically independent tribes, Afghan and Biluch, is hard to define, having no marked natural indication. But from the Shal territory (long. 67°), belonging to theBiluch state of KELAT, westward, the southern limits of the valleys of the Lora river, and then of the Helmand, as far as the Lake of Seistan in lat. 30° will complete the southern boundary. Thus the whole breadth of Biluchistan, the ancient Gedrosia, a dry region occupying 5° of latitude, intervenes between Afghanistan and the sea.

The western boundary runs from the intersection of the Lake of Seistan with lat. 30°, bending eastward, so as to exclude a part of the plain of Seistan on the eastern bank of the lake, and then crosses the lake to near the meridian of 61°. Thence it runs nearly north, near this meridian, to a point on the Hari-Rud, or river of Heart, about 70 miles below that city, where it encounters the spurs of the Safed Koh, which has been given as the northern boundary.

But if we take the limits of the entire Afghan dominions, as they at present exist, the western boundary will continue north along the Hari-Rud to lat. 36°, and the northern boundary will run from this point along the borders of the Turkman desert, so as to include Andkhoi, to Khoja Saleh ferry on the Oxus. The Oxus, to its source in Great Pamir, forms the rest of the northern boundary. These enlarged limits would embrace the remainder of the Hazara mountain tracts, and the whole of what is now called AFGHAN TURKESTAN, as well as BADAKHSHAN with its dependencies, now tributary to the Afghan Amir.

The extreme dimensions of Afghanistan, as at first defined, will be about 600 miles from east to west, and 450 miles from north to south; and if we take the whole Afghan dominion, the extent from north to south will be increased to 600 miles. Within both the areas so defined, however, we have included some territory over which the Afghan government has no control whatever, and much over which its authority is respected only when backed by a special exertion of force. Under the former head come the valleys of the Yuzufzai clan north of Peshawar, the Momads, Afridis, Vaziris, &c., adjoining that district on the west and south-west, the high-lying valleys of Chitral or Kashkar, and of the independent Pagans or Kafirs, among the loftier spurs of Hindu Kush. Under the latter head come the eastern districts of Khost and (partially) of Kurram, the Kakar country in the extreme south-east, much of the country of the tribes called Eimak and Hazara in the north-west, and probably Badakhshan with its dependencies.

If we suppose the sea to rise 4000 feet above its existing level, no part of the quadrilateral plateau that we have defined would be covered, except portions of the lower valley of the Kabul river, small tracts towards the Indus, and a triangle, of which the apex should be at the Lake of Seistan in the extreme south-west, and the base should just include Heart and Kandahar, passing beyond those cities to intersect the western and southern boundaries respectively. Isolated points and ridges within this triangle would emerge.

Further, let us suppose the sea to rise 7000 feet above its existing level. We should still have a tract emerging so large that a straight line of 200 miles could be drawn, from the Kushan Pass of Hindu Kush, passing about 35 miles west of Kabul, to Rangak on the road between Ghazni and Kandahar, which nowhere should touch the submerged portion. And we believe it is certain that a line under like conditions, but 250 miles in length, could be drawn at right angles to the former, passing about 25 miles south of Ghazni. The greater part of this latter line, however, would lie in the Hazara country, in which we have no observations.

In the triangular tract that would be submerged according to our first supposition, the lowest level is the Lake of Seistan, 1280 feet above the sea. Heart is 2650; Kandahar, 3490.

The Afghans themselves make a broad distinction between Kabul, meaning thereby the whole basin of the Kabul river, and the rest of their country, excluding the former from the large and vague term KHORASAN, under which they consider the rest to be comprehended. There is reason for such a distinction in history as well as nature. For the Kabul basin was in old times much more intimately connected with India, and to the beginning of the 11th century was regarded as Indian territory.

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Afghanistan - Table of Contents

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