Howard B. Schaffer, 88, a leading South Asia specialist who served as ambassador to Bangladesh in a 36-year career in the Foreign Service and who formed a then-rare "diplomatic couple" with his wife, a fellow ambassador, died last Friday at a hospital in Washington, D.C.

The cause was complications from congestive heart failure, said a son, Washingtonian magazine editor and former Inquirer reporter Michael Currie Schaffer.

Howie, as he was often known, was considered the dean of South Asian diplomats - a veteran whose expertise on conflict in the disputed region of Kashmir, or on the turbulent relationship between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, was often called upon by other diplomats and academics.

He entered the Foreign Service in 1955 and worked as a political and economic officer, holding posts at embassies in India and Pakistan before serving two stints as deputy assistant secretary for South Asia in the 1980s.

Mr. Schaffer was one of 29 diplomats to sign the 1971 "Blood telegram," a first-of-its-kind State Department dissent cable that criticized U.S. complicity toward a brutal Pakistani crackdown in East Pakistan, which soon became the independent state of Bangladesh.

Mr. Schaffer and his wife, fellow diplomat Teresita C. Schaffer, were among the first couples to maintain dual careers in the Foreign Service, where nepotism rules sometimes prevented them from working at the same embassy. For many years, Mr. Schaffer told the New York Times in 1975, their motto was: "Her time will come."

"There were a couple of jobs I lost out on, or didn't even seek because we thought what Tezi could do was either unclear or undesirable," Mr. Schaffer said, referring to his wife by her nickname.

After he retired in 1991, she became ambassador to Sri Lanka.

Mr. Schaffer was born in Manhattan on July 21, 1929. His father ran a business that manufactured light fixtures.

Mr. Schaffer studied American history and literature at Harvard University, graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1950, and developed an interest in foreign policy while serving in the Army during the Korean War.

- Washington Post