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Farmers work at a poppy field in Afghanistan's Jalalabad province on May 4.
Updated at 9:50 a.m. ET: KABUL, Afghanistan - Many Afghans see dark clouds of uncertainty looming over the calendar as the 2014 deadline approaches for most foreign troops to withdraw, and worry that after that the international community will abandon them.
Over the last decade, billions of aid dollars have flowed into Afghanistan, and thousands of foreign soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians have died during the effort to bring peace and a modicum of prosperity to the country. Meanwhile, the government of President Hamid Karzai has passed laws meant to improve the lives of his citizens. Nevertheless, Afghanistan still faces huge problems, such as widespread violence, official corruption, grinding poverty and a booming narcotics trade.
“Plagued by factionalism and corruption, Afghanistan is far from ready to assume responsibility for security when U.S. and NATO forces withdraw in 2014,” think tank International Crisis Group said in a recent report.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai highlighted that his country "paid a heavy price" during the war on terror when he sat down with NBC News' Atia Abawi in Kabul on Thursday. "I don't even know if al-Qaida exists as an organization as it is being spoken about," added Karzai, who expressed great frustration with the U.S. Watch some highlights of the exclusive interview.
The Taliban are regaining land and power lost after they were toppled by U.S.-backed forces in 2001. While there have been more than 2,000 American military casualties during this time, civilians have borne the brunt of the violence. In the first six months of 2012 alone, more than 3,000 civilians were killed or injured, according the United Nations. This number was down 15 percent from a year earlier. Anti-government and coalition insurgents were responsible for 80 percent of the civilian casualties, the U.N. says.
Jose Cabezas / AFP - Getty Images
Members of the Afghan Border Patrol are assisted by a member of the Afghan National Army (ANA) (2R) during a training session at the Narizah base in Narizah, Khost Province on August 13, 2012. Some 130,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan are preparing to withdraw in 2014 and are training and working alongside Afghan soldiers as they take increasing responsibility for the anti-insurgency campaign.
More than 300,000 Afghan National Army soldiers and Afghan National Police members have been trained to replace foreign soldiers. Afghan security forces face big challenges, such as attrition, illiteracy and insurgent infiltration.
Poverty and corruption
Most Afghans are not just living in fear of an insurgent attack or NATO airstrike. They fear hunger and worry that they and their families won’t survive another winter.
Afghans are among the poorest people on earth. According to the World Bank, per capita GDP was around $576 in 2011, up from $158 in 2002.
More than half of children under the age of five are malnourished, according to the World Food Program.
Jawad Jalali / AFP - Getty Images file
A young garbage collector carries recyclable material from a landfill in the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Oct. 17.
Afghanistan remains largely dependent on foreign aid – the World Bank says that 90 percent of the country’s national budget is still financed by governments and other foreign organizations.
Along with the huge inflows of foreign aid and poverty is corruption: the country is tied with Somalia and North Korea at the bottom of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2012.
A 2012 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report estimated that Afghans paid $2.5 billion in bribes over 12 months, which is equivalent to almost a quarter of the country’s GDP.
In 2001, Afghan women were the poster children for the invasion. Promises poured in to help half of the society that was brutalized and banished during the Taliban. Despite the pledges, Afghanistan remains one of the most difficult places in the world to be a woman: it has one of the highest levels of maternal mortality and, according to U.N. estimates, around 90 percent of women suffer from some sort of domestic abuse.
Ahmad Masood / Reuters
Women clad in burqas walk in Bagram, Afghanistan, on January 3.
Nevertheless, there has been some progress. In 2004, President Karzai signed into law a new constitution granting equality among all its citizens and ensuring women’s rights. And in 2009 the country passed the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law, intended to protect women from abuse, rape, and forced marriages. While the laws were all positive steps such legislation is rarely enforced.
The ministry of women’s affairs in Kabul says that from April through July of this year at least 3,600 cases of violence against women were recorded. However, this grim number may be seen as a sign of progress because it means more families and women are learning about their rights and reporting their grievances.
Soosan Firooz rhymes about Afghanistan and the many crises its people have faced. In a country where public performance by women is frowned upon, this is no easy feat. NBC News' Tazeen Ahmad reports.
Afghanistan has long-produced about 90 percent of the world's opium, a paste from the poppy plant that is mad into make heroin. At the end of the Taliban’s rule, the government worked with the U.N. to cut production by around 90 percent.
In the last decade, opium production increased again. It is now the largest source of export earnings and accounts for half of Afghanistan's GDP, according to humanitarian news site AlertNet.
All hope is not lost in Afghanistan, progress has been made in small steps rather than the giant leaps expected when United States-backed forces toppled the Taliban.
Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images
An Afghan Pashtun boy, who said he was forced from troubled Baglan province due to threats from the Taliban, looks on after a day after scavenging at a garbage dump in Kabul on November 14, 2012
In 2001, girls were denied an education under the Taliban regime and only 900,000 children were enrolled in school throughout Afghanistan. Today, at least 7 million children are attending classes and 2.5-million are estimated to be girls, according to Amnesty International. In the cities, you see women in the workforce again, doctors, politicians and even business owners.
Still, many fear that these delicate gains will disappear as the last foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan on Dec. 31, 2014.
In an exclusive interview with NBC's Atia Abawi, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai says that the U.S. is not sticking to a signed agreement between their two countries.