In Memoriam: Howard Schaffer: 1929-2017

Photo by TCSchaffer

February 20, 2018: Howard and I started South Asia Hand together in late 2010. We had both retired from the Foreign Service, having spent much of our careers working in or on South Asia. He introduced me to the region. We took great joy in the friends and colleagues who hailed from the region or had joined us in making it a career focus. We hoped to convey to the next generation of South Asia hands our passion, as well as the remarkable change in the region’s ties with the United States since we first got involved.


By that time, Howard was 81, and had earned the title of “elder statesman.” He was the family historian, but above all, he was the master story-teller. He wrote about his legendary diplomatic colleagues, about how his own love of words played out in the subcontinent, about what had gone right and wrong in the tangled history of the region. He still had a couple of big projects in him. Our joint effort, India at the Global High Table, was published in 2016 in the US and in India. One other joint effort, a study of Bangladesh’s two independence struggles, completed just before he entered the hospital for the last time, is awaiting publication as part of a CSIS project, and will appear on South Asia Hand shortly.


Howard started what was meant to become a series of vignettes of the major personalities in U.S. relations with the subcontinent.  Failing health cut this effort short, but not before South Asia Hand had run a memorable piece on the redoubtable John Kenneth Galbraith. In his final months, as he struggled to recover from a massive intestinal bleed and to regain the physical strength he had nurtured during his lifetime, he kept up with news on his two favorite subjects: the mercurial path of U.S. relations with South Asia and Washington Nationals baseball.


But the legacy that would most delight him was the crowd that gathered at DACOR to remember him soon after his death on November 17. The old-timers recalled him with warmth and admiration. Family came from far and wide. But the remarkable thing was the large number of younger colleagues, former students from his Georgetown course on diplomatic practice, young diplomats who had encouraged their former prof to come visit them at their Foreign Service posts, and had the grace not to look astonished when he showed up.


Howard’s encyclopedic knowledge won’t be available in the South Asia Hand any more, but I like to think that his spirit will live on.


Teresita Schaffer

10 Replies to “In Memoriam: Howard Schaffer: 1929-2017”

  1. Dear Tezi,

    So glad you (and Howard in spirit) are back online with the South Asia Hand. A needed publication in these confusing and confounding times.

    FYI. Will be citing Howie’s book “The Limits of Influence: America’s Role in Kashmir” in my class tonight at SAIS on South Asian security. His work lives on!

    My very best,

    Rick Inderfurth

  2. Dear Tezzie,

    What a lovely note. Indeed, miss him badly. Would have loved to have his analysis of US policies under Trump and where we go from here in the region.
    So good of you to continue with the South Asia Hand, alone now as you say, but I am sure he will be looking from behind your shoulder every day, when you work.
    Would you be visiting South Asia in the near future? Do let us know if you do.
    But, we wish you the very best in life and love and happiness in whatever you do.

    Regards, Dipankar

  3. Dear Tersita
    Howard and you contributed significantly to a better understanding of India – US Geopolitical parameters. Thank you for a life time of effort. It is a legacy many have and will benefit from.
    Gen Raghavan

  4. My dear Tezi,
    Yes, there is no doubt that Howie was not only a wise man, but a good man as well. There could be no better proof of his inherent goodness than the fact that he was able to earn the respect and trust of both the Indians and Pakistanis !
    God bless his soul and give you the strength to keep aloft the torch of objectivity , fairness and respect for the views of even those you differ with .
    Good wishes

  5. Dear Tezi,

    My condolences on the death of Howie. It was a privilege to know and work with him and therebyto witness how diplomacy ought to work.

    It’s good to learn that South Asia Hand will continue.

  6. Dear Tezi,
    As you know Howie has a special place for me. I met him at age 18 in Kashmir and started our long association and friendship. He has left a precedence that we can all follow. Particularly his desire for peace and well being of people especially in South Asia where he and you spent great amount of your professional life.
    I miss my friend.
    With best regards,
    Farooq Kathwari

  7. Tezi – sorry to be so late in commenting on your wonderful note about Howie and how you worked together on South Asia Hand and so much more. Your words were touching and inspiring. Howie was a unique and wonderful guy. We miss him. But we are glad you are carrying on your shared work. Shaun

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