ISLAMABAD, Feb 13 —Pakistan’s political stalemate after inconclusive elections last week showed no signs of ending today with the largest groups still unable to agree on forming a coalition government to run the crisis-hit country.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the largest party after the February 8 vote, said it continues to negotiate with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the second largest, to clinch a partnership.

PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif challenged independent members backed by jailed former premier Imran Khan, who account for the highest number of seats, to form a government and prove their majority. He said if they cannot do so, other parties would.

Khan’s media team said Khan had made it clear that members supported by his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) would not join forces with PML-N, PPP and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the three largest parties, indicating that his independents would not be a part of any coalition government.

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The stalemate five days after the general election has become a cause for concern as the nuclear-armed country grapples with an economic crisis and rising militant violence.

Pakistan narrowly averted sovereign default last summer through a last-gasp $3 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - but the lender’s support ends in March, following which a new, extended programme will be needed.

Negotiating a new programme, and at speed, will be critical for the new government, which will take over an economy beset by record high inflation and slow growth caused by tough reforms.

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“We had two meetings and there will be more,” Sharif told reporters, referring to his party’s talks with PPP. “We will let the nation know when there is a decision. We all have to move together for the larger national interest.

“We will, God willing, play our role” to tackle the challenges Pakistan is facing, counter inflation and fix the broken economy, said Sharif, 72, who was premier for 16 months until August.

He said PML-N numbers in parliament had risen to 80 from 75 yesterday with independents joining the party.

There was no immediate word about the negotiations from PPP and the party leadership is expected to speak to reporters later today.

The two parties are wrangling over who will be prime minister, with both wanting the top job.

Separately, Khan’s media team said Khan had told reporters during a court appearance inside prison that independents backed by his PTI will not form a coalition with the three largest parties, ending rumours that it might form such an alliance.

Khan was jailed last month on charges including the revealing of state secrets and his party was barred from contesting elections, forcing members to run as independents. — Reuters