The geography and climate of Pakistan are extremely diverse, and the country is home to a wide variety of wildlife. Pakistan covers an area of 881,913 km2 (340,509 sq mi), approximately equal to the combined land areas of France and the United Kingdom. It is the 33rd-largest nation by total area, although this ranking varies depending on how the disputed territory of Kashmir is counted. Pakistan has a 1,046 km (650 mi) coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and land borders of 6,774 km (4,209 mi) in total: 2,430 km (1,510 mi) with Afghanistan, 523 km (325 mi) with China, 2,912 km (1,809 mi) with India and 909 km (565 mi) with Iran. It shares a marine border with Oman, and is separated from Tajikistan by the cold, narrow Wakhan Corridor. Pakistan occupies a geopolitically important location at the crossroads of South Asia, the Middle East, and Central Asia.
Geologically, Pakistan is located in the Indus–Tsangpo Suture Zone and overlaps the Indian tectonic plate in its Sindh and Punjab provinces; Balochistan and most of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are within the Eurasian plate, mainly on the Iranian plateau. Gilgit–Baltistan and Azad Kashmir lie along the edge of the Indian plate and hence are prone to violent earthquakes. This region has the highest rates of seismicity and largest earthquakes in the Himalaya region. Ranging from the coastal areas of the south to the glaciated mountains of the north, Pakistan's landscapes vary from plains to deserts, forests, hills, and plateaus.
Pakistan is divided into three major geographic areas: the northern highlands, the Indus River plain, and the Balochistan Plateau. The northern highlands contain the Karakoram, Hindu Kush, and Pamir mountain ranges (see mountains of Pakistan), which contain some of the world's highest peaks, including five of the fourteen eight-thousanders (mountain peaks over 8,000 metres or 26,250 feet), which attract adventurers and mountaineers from all over the world, notably K2 (8,611 m or 28,251 ft) and Nanga Parbat (8,126 m or 26,660 ft). The Balochistan Plateau lies in the west and the Thar Desert in the east. The 1,609 km (1,000 mi) Indus River and its tributaries flow through the country from the Kashmir region to the Arabian Sea. There is an expanse of alluvial plains along it in the Punjab and Sindh.
The climate varies from tropical to temperate, with arid conditions in the coastal south. There is a monsoon season with frequent flooding due to heavy rainfall, and a dry season with significantly less rainfall or none at all. There are four distinct seasons: a cool, dry winter from December through February; a hot, dry spring from March through May; the summer rainy season, or southwest monsoon period, from June through September; and the retreating monsoon period of October and November. Rainfall varies greatly from year to year, and patterns of alternate flooding and drought are common.
Flora and fauna
The diversity of the landscape and climate in Pakistan allows a wide variety of trees and plants to flourish. The forests range from coniferous alpine and subalpine trees such as spruce, pine, and deodar cedar in the extreme northern mountains to deciduous trees in most of the country (for example, the mulberry-like shisham found in the Sulaiman Mountains), to palms such as coconut and date in the southern Punjab, southern Balochistan, and all of Sindh. The western hills are home to juniper, tamarisk, coarse grasses, and scrub plants. Mangrove forests form much of the coastal wetlands along the coast in the south.
Coniferous forests are found at altitudes ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 metres (3,300 to 13,100 feet) in most of the northern and northwestern highlands. In the xeric regions of Balochistan, date palm and Ephedra are common. In most of the Punjab and Sindh, the Indus plains support tropical and subtropical dry and moist broadleaf forest as well as tropical and xeric shrublands. These forests are mostly of mulberry, acacia, and eucalyptus. About 2.2% or 1,687,000 hectares (16,870 km2) of Pakistan was forested in 2010.
The fauna of Pakistan also reflects the country's varied climate. Around 668 bird species are found there, including crows, sparrows, mynas, hawks, falcons, and eagles. Palas, Kohistan, has a significant population of western tragopan. Many birds sighted in Pakistan are migratory, coming from Europe, Central Asia, and India.
The southern plains are home to mongooses, civets, hares, the Asiatic jackal, the Indian pangolin, the jungle cat, and the desert cat. There are mugger crocodiles in the Indus, and wild boar, deer, porcupines, and small rodents in the surrounding areas. The sandy scrublands of central Pakistan are home to Asiatic jackals, striped hyenas, wildcats, and leopards. The lack of vegetative cover, the severe climate, and the impact of grazing on the deserts have left wild animals in a precarious position. The chinkara is the only animal that can still be found in significant numbers in Cholistan. A small number of nilgai are found along the Pakistan–India border and in some parts of Cholistan. A wide variety of animals live in the mountainous north, including the Marco Polo sheep, the urial (a subspecies of wild sheep), the markhor goat, the ibex goat, the Asian black bear, and the Himalayan brown bear. Among the rare animals found in the area are the snow leopard and the blind Indus river dolphin, of which there are believed to be about 1,100 remaining, protected at the Indus River Dolphin Reserve in Sindh. In total, 174 mammals, 177 reptiles, 22 amphibians, 198 freshwater fish species and 5,000 species of invertebrates (including insects) have been recorded in Pakistan.
The flora and fauna of Pakistan suffer from a number of problems. Pakistan has the second-highest rate of deforestation in the world, which, along with hunting and pollution, has had adverse effects on the ecosystem. The government has established a large number of protected areas, wildlife sanctuaries, and game reserves to address these issues.