The Kabul River is approximately 700 kilometers long and for 560 kilometers its path carries it through Afghanistan, where it constitutes 26 per cent of the total water sources available in the country.
It is the landlocked nation’s most populated river basin and supports not only the capital but several other major urban centers in the east.
More than eight million people live in the Kabul River Basin: besides drinking water, its resources are used for sanitation, industry, and agriculture and power generation. Dozens of large and small hydroelectric dams are in operation in the river basin both sides of the border. Pakistan has both upstream and downstream rights on the watercourse.
The Kabul River rises in the Sanglakh Range in the Hindu Kush, 72 kilometers west of Kabul. It flows east through Afghanistan’s capital Kabul and then the city of Jalalabad, before crossing the border into Pakistan.
The Logar, Panjshir, Kunar, Alingar, Bara and Swat are all tributaries. At least half a dozen other rivers and seasonal bodies of water are grouped in the Kabul River Basin, including the Shamil/Kaitu, the Kurram and the Gomal. The Kabul River flows through approximately 140 kilometres of Pakistan before joining the Indus at Attock, southeast of Peshawar.
The Kabul River enter Pakistan
The Kabul River enters Pakistan at Shalman in the Khyber Agency. It then flows through the Khyber and Mohmand Agencies flanked by the Koh-i-Sufaid Mountains until it reaches Warsak Dam. Below the dam it is diverted into several canals and divides into three main distributary channels which irrigate the Peshawar, Charsadda, and Nowshera Districts, before joining the river Indus at Kund. The three branches of the river from south to north are Shah Alam, Naguman and Adezai.
The Kabul River crosses two major climatic belts. Its upper reaches have a continental warm-summer climate with a mean July temperature of about 77 °F (25 °C) and a mean January temperature below 32 °F (0 °C); annual precipitation there is less than 20 inches (500 mm), although precipitation is higher on the mountain slopes around its headwaters. In its lower reaches in Pakistan, the Kabul River crosses a region with a dry desert climate, with maximum daily temperatures in early summer that often exceed 104 °F (40 °C) and mean monthly temperatures in winter above 50 °F (10 °C).
Irrigation is also extensive in the Jalalabad and Peshawar areas. A few miles below the junction with the Panjsher, a hydroelectric plant has been built. The Kabul River valley is a natural route for travel between Afghanistan and Pakistan; the Macedonian Alexander the Great used it to invade India in the 4th century BCE. Since 1945 the Peshawar-Jalalabad-Kabul Highway has occupied parts of the valley. The river is navigable by flat-bottomed vessels below Kabul city.
River Kabul Ecology
Fifty-four fish species have been identified from the Kabul River of which about thirty-five are described as common. Many of these fish belong to the carp and mystus families. One species, Botia rostrata, has only been reported from Pakistan in the Kabul at Michni (Butt, 1989 and Butt and Mirza, 1981). Mahseer, the ‘king’ of river fish, are both resident and migratory through the river. Numbers are reported to have substantially declined. One reason is thought to be due to a ‘pollution plug’ in the river at Nowshera, preventing upstream migration to spawning grounds in the river Swat.
The wetlands of the Kabul River provide wintering habitat to a variety of migratory bird species such as cranes, waterfowl and waders. Although detailed studies have not been carried out on these birds, casual observation in winter has identified many ducks including pintail, shoveller, widgeon, mallard, garganey, tufted and ruddy Shel duck. Lapwings, herons, egrets, gulls and terns are also commonly spotted.
Common cranes are occasionally sighted. They were once frequent visitors but their numbers appear to have greatly declined over time (Ahmad, 1993).
Turtles are common along many parts of the river but are particularly abundant at the confluence of the two Peshawar sewage drains with the Shah Alam. The terrestrial vegetation has been described by Butt (1989). The benthic invertebrates have been described by Butt (1989), and fresh water algae by Fazl-i-Hadi et al. (1988).