Building a capable public service is fundamental to postconflict state building. Yet in postconflict settings, short-term demands typically outweigh this long-term objective. To ensure peace and stabilize fragile political coalitions, political elites are often obligated to hand out public jobs and better pay to constituents, regardless of merit. Donor-financed parallel project structures that rely on highly paid technical assistants (TAs), rather than on regular public servants, often become the primary vehicle to address citizens' immediate service delivery needs. In light of these necessary short-term compromises, what is a workable approach to rebuilding public services in postconflict settings?This study seeks to answer this question, by comparing public service reform trajectories in five postconflict countries: Afghanistan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, and Timor-Leste. The study seeks to explain these countries' different trajectories by identifying their primary drivers, employing process tracing and structured, focused methods of comparative analysis. It draws on more than 150 semi-structured interviews conducted with government officials and other stakeholders to reconstruct reform trajectories, and analyzes available administrative data. The study analyses how reform trajectories are shaped by elite bargains and highlights their path-dependency, shaped by pre-conflict legacies and the nature of conflict. As the first systematic study on post-conflict public service reforms, it identifies policy lessons for the future engagement of development partners in building pubic services.