When the annual Amarnath yatra began in Kashmir on Wednesday, there was an unexpected host waiting to welcome the devotees at Baltal base camp in north of Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik.
Malik became the first separatist leader to assure the devotees of their safety and peace during the pilgrimage at the camps and langars in Baltal.
"Kashmir is safe to visit even after the yatra was over. We have no animosity with Indian citizens. We are fighting against the rulers who have imperial policies towards Kashmir," Malik, a militant commander turned politician with Ghadian leanings, told the pilgrims while welcoming them at a camp at Baltal, around 70 km away from Srinagar.
Malik left early in the morning with a group of supporters carrying Hindu traditional yellow rice to eat on the way to the shrine base camp at Baltal.
"The world should see keenly the humanity Kashmiris have been adorning and their love for brotherhood. See how Kashmiris are welcoming the yatri brethren. They are giving an example of true human beings," Malik said.
For the last three years, the summer season witnessed unrest coincidentally through the months of Amarnath pilgrimage. Though no devotee was harmed or attacked during the street protests but a sense of fear did prevail among the pilgrims.
Malik's visit on Wednesday provided reassurance of a peaceful and safe yatra. "Despite being from the other religion, Kashmiris are warm-heartedly supporting the devotees. The yatris should back home convey their people the grim situation of Kashmir and their subjugation by the brutal Indian rule," said Malik.
Vijay Kumar, a resident of Punjab running the Baba Barfani Langar Sewa Samiti, had one appeal to separatists: "We appeal people to cooperate with us. They (the separatists) should not go for bandh during this period."
Vijay Prabhakar Batala, a resident of Punjab, organising langar for the past one decade, responds to Malik's comments with these words: "We have one soul. Be it Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. We are created by one God. Our relation with Kashmiris or for that matter with Muslims is of humanity".