It is spring in Kabul where one balmy day runs into the next with ease and in which laughing Hazara street urchins, plastic sandals flapping wildly, chase flyaway kites with the speed of the Olympic runners they could, in different circumstances, so easily be.

Fruit trees are in full blossom in Bagh-e-Babur: the meticulously restored Moghul garden resonating with the heady perfume of lilac and the giddy freedom of female college students enjoying an outing to the one place in the city in which they can safely wander at will - unchaperoned - except for the watchful government guards on duty and whose job it is to ensure that visitors, especially ladies, are undisturbed and unmolested by males of any description.

The girls, mostly Hazara, decked out in the skin-tight jeans and fitted, hip length black jackets that city fashion has subscribed to this past few years, totter along on equally de rigueur high heels with, in contrast to last year’s black, brightly coloured head scarves whipping around like brilliant butterfly wings in the dust-laden breeze that, like Kabuli pilau and kebab, is an integral part of daily life in this city where anything can - and often does - happen.

Solar powered street lights dot the main thoroughfares where, as always, bumper to bumper traffic jostles, inch by inch, for nonexistent space, while furiously gesticulating traffic police, wisely wearing green masks over nose and mouth, vainly attempt to create order out of the chaos, which pulsates through the main arteries that are the city’s lifeblood come day or night.

The impression, further fuelled by the loud and colourful hustle and bustle of bazaars so visibly throbbing with multi-cultural life, is one of thriving conviviality, of tolerance and success; of life being lived - and enjoyed - to the full. But, this ‘at a glance’ impression is, like so many other things in Afghanistan, nothing more than an extremely fragile veneer plastered over the rapidly widening divisions that are tearing the country apart - yet again!

It is still ethnic Hazaras, who do all the dirty work: their easily identifiable Central Asian features, dust caked as men and boys pull and push heavily-laden, wooden carts, through the lanes and less trafficked alleyways bisecting blocks of business-like office blocks, newly-constructed and under construction shopping malls and the few remaining, age and war scarred, traditional trading districts alike. It is still Hazaras in full control of baking and selling the many shapes, sizes and weights of naan bread without which no meal, large or small, rich or poor, is complete and it is still Hazaras, both male and female, who cook and clean the houses of those who can afford the luxury of help. But, after generation upon generation of outright suppression, exploitation and - at times - death and persecution, it appears that, finally, the Hazaras are on the up and, unsurprisingly, many, perhaps even all, other traditionally dominant ethnicities are not at all happy at the changes being wrought.

“These descendants of ancient invaders are not even Afghan,” says Nazerullah, a Pathan from Khost. “Yet they are given priority by foreign aid agencies that help them with everything they could possibly want, while true Afghans like us are completely ignored. It is Hazaras, who are given help and money for schools, for medical assistance, for electricity and water supplies and all the things that we Pathans need too. It was Hazaras, who were helped to migrate to Turkey and who were, in Taliban time, taken to live in safe places in Pakistan and who were provided with everything they needed there, while we Pathans had to either fight it out here, on our own, or suffer in hardship in Pakistan. No one helped us. They never do.”

Undeniably bitter and largely misinformed, Nazerullah is far from being alone in his vitriolic opinion of ethnic Hazaras - a people descended from the ‘Hordes of Genghis Khan’, who conquered the region so many centuries ago and who comprise the minority Shia or Ismaeli sect in this predominantly Sunni country.

“Hazaras are, because of foreign intervention and foreign aid, given priority in everything,” complains Abdul Salaam, a Tajik from the Kunduz region in the north. “I don’t understand why it is that so much foreign aid money goes to Hazaras when we Tajiks have needs that are not met,” he added. And so, it goes on in a similar vein from the diverse ethnicities comprising this cultural melting pot of a nation who, while they do, to a certain degree, have an axe to grind, collectively overlook the main reason for the undeniable surge in the number of educated Hazaras on a visibly upward climb.

The very second that opportunity knocked on their door, a community that had been downtrodden for centuries, not just welcomed it in with open minds, but, through dint of sheer determination and relentless application, is now set on obtaining the freedom and equality so long denied and is working, flat out, to achieve this aim even if it means - as it very well could do - taking on the possibly resurgent Taliban barehanded.

“Hazaras,” sniffs Haji, an Uzbek with henna dyed beard flowing down the front of his slept-in shirt. “A waste of education. They will be knocked back down to where they belong soon enough, but first,” he beams magnificently and looks around. “This is spring and the wild tulips will be in bloom in Paghman. I have given my children time off from unnecessary education. This is Afghanistan and tulips are far more important than books.”

    The writer is author of The Gun Tree:  One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban.